Pilgrim’s Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge

My husband and I have been reading out loud to one another since shortly after we got married more than twenty years ago. It all started on Cyprus with A Thousand and One Nights. Sometimes we dip into several books before landing on one we both enjoy. A year ago my husband agreed to sample Pilgrim’s Inn with me. A cousin had given it to me for Christmas, along with its prequel, The Bird in the Tree.

We were both surprised when Pilgrim’s Inn, which many would consider women’s lit, captured my husband’s interest as well as mine. What we didn’t know when we started was that it would turn out to be the perfect read not only for late winter, but for other tough and uncertain times (see note below).

This post-WWII novel abounds with Goudge’s trademark aura of enchantment. Although not verging into the fantastical, as in her children’s book The Little White Horse, she manages to seed elements of mystery and mysticism into herbs, landscapes, history, and old houses. She is not averse to dropping in a passage here and there that makes the reader back up and say, “Wait a minute. Was that a vision? Imagination? Or something else?”

Considering that Goudge never married, it is intriguing that marital tensions figure prominently in nearly all her novels, even The Little White Horse. Perhaps a vexed view of marriage factored into her lifelong singleness. Regardless, Goudge the writer always succeeds in resolving the marital trials satisfactorily as well as realistically, without promising a flawless happily-ever-after. Her protagonists find contentment within their differences and a willingness to give as well as to receive with gratitude whatever their spouse has to offer.

Pilgrim’s Inn is book two of The Eliot Family Trilogy, but my cousin assured us it was her favorite and we would miss nothing by jumping in with it. Goudge provides sufficient background from the previous book to enable new readers to understand the characters and the tensions between them.

Note: With regard to the aforementioned tough and uncertain times, in the course of our reading of Pilgrim’s Inn, my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is probably why the rough draft of this review fell off my radar until now. Over the past year he has undergone chemo, radiation, and surgery. At present he is being treated with low-dose radiation every other week, has returned to teaching (online), and is doing well, all things considered.

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