The Leper’s Companions by Julia Blackburn

For me, The Leper’s Companions by Julia Blackburn had two things going for it: It is short and the print is large. I read it because it was book of the month for my book group. Under no other circumstances would this book have entered my consciousness, although it was shortlisted for an Orange Booker Prize.

Julia BlackburnSo, Julia Blackburn is a British author of both fiction and non-fiction born in 1948. Her father was a poet, Thomas Blackburn. and her mother an artist, Rosalie de Meric. Apparently Blackburn had a bohemian and troubled upbringing. She has written about that in her memoir The Three of Us.

The Leper’s Companions falls into the category of speculative fiction. It is set in the 15th century and starts in 1410 when a woman tries to escape her own sadness in a past time. She watches the lives of the inhabitants unfold around her in the Leper's Companiona village by the sea. However, this is a world of devils and miracles, a world in which there are no clear boundaries between reality and the power of the imagination.

A man discovers  a mermaid washed up on the sand and this starts a chain of events that leads three of the villagers to accompany the leper on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The sad woman joins them and sets out without the certainty of ever coming home again.

The Leper’s Companions has some lovely descriptions in it and some of the phrasing shows Blackburn can write. However, this book is every bit as boring as it sounds. Save your time: read something else.

Valerie Penny



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