21 February, 2010

Book 47 - "All the stories we step into become part of our own story. Our pilgrimage."

Title: Gatty's Tale (2006)

Author: Kevin Crossley-Holland

Why this book?
My mother recommended it to me.

So what's it all about?
Gatty's a field-girl, working the lands of Sir John de Caldicot - until he and his wife notice her singing. The Lady's sister is going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and she wants Gatty as her second chambermaid, believing that the girl's voice will keep them safe on what is often a perilous journey.

The pilgrims are a mixed bunch - as well as Gatty there is her new mistress, Lady Gwynneth, a priest, a cook, a merchant, and others. They come from all walks of life, but Lady Gwynneth is determined that each and every member of the pilgrimage will contribute his or her best to the journey, and that if they pull together nothing will be able to go wrong.

Things go wrong, of course. Gatty gets lost in London on her very first day there. As the pilgrims start their journey they find themselves tricked and cheated; short of food; ill; in love; stuck at sea; and left behind in unknown territory. Yet they do, slowly, pull together, and Gatty becomes determined that one way or another, she and Lady Gwynneth will make it to the Holy Land.

The Good and the Bad
Gatty's Tale is, in fact, the fourth book in a series - or rather, a sequel to a trilogy. Crossley-Holland's Arthur trilogy follows a young lord, Arthur de Caldicot, who is given a seeing-stone through which he can see into a parallel world, where a boy who looks very much like him becomes Arthur of Round Table fame. I hadn't read the trilogy, but found that Gatty's Tale stood just fine on its own.

I started off not enjoying this book overly much, mostly because it took me until I was about halfway through the book to stop finding Gatty annoying long enough to actually start liking her. Her naivety was perhaps expected from a girl who had never been out of her own village before, but I still found it a little hard to believe that Gatty was so naive that she never realised that most of the men who approached her had intentions beyond those of just being friendly. Or perhaps it was realistic, for someone of her age and situation - but it was still incredibly frustrating to read about. However, once Gatty had finally learned about the harsh realities of the world, she somehow became more likeable - which sounds just awful, when I put it like that. I suppose it was more that she was forced to grow up, and her rather limited world-view was expanded into one that I could be sympathetic towards. She's also an incredibly strong character, right from the word 'go' - while she might have been a slow learner in that one respect, she was also adaptable, friendly, and had a stroppiness which was at times both charming and repelling.

In a way, the book seemed like a long, detailed plot device to get Gatty to a point where she could marry Arthur. She couldn't, obviously, as a peasant girl, but thanks to Lady Gwynneth leaving her title and lands to her (for no reason that made any real sense to me - surely there must have been someone she liked and trusted who she'd known a little longer than Gatty?). But to say that would be to downplay the vivid picture that Crossley-Holland draws of the almost impossible journey of pilgrims to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, of the reactions of a large cross-section of people to foreign lands and customs who have never had to deal with such things before.

So should I read it or what?
Although I was dubious at first, I definitely enjoyed Gatty's Tale overall. It was nice to read a book set in this period and place which focused on pilgrims, rather than crusades. The books was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2008, so you don't just have to take my word for it: it's a story worth reading.


Sadako said...

Nice review. And it sounds like a good read.

HelenB said...