You have things. Then you lose them. Then you find something else.
Whilst that may be one way (in a flippant nutshell) of understanding The Salt Path, Raynor Winn’s bestselling memoir of homelessness, hope and walking, its incredible success is evidence that this book has touched and fascinated many different people in many different ways. There really might be something for everyone in these pages.
One of the comments in the Q&A following the hour’s discussion at the Arts Centre was on the title and the cover, how both had intrigued an audience member into purchasing a copy. I understood that impulse completely. Those biblical undertones of the word “salt”, with mention of a character named “Moth”, in an account of two people journeying wild across the landscape had me hooked – probably sub-consciously expecting this was going to be Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (Pt.2). Post-apocalyptic survivalist fantasies triggered at the bookstore checkout.
But this isn’t a work of fiction. And it’s not a novelisation of The Walking Dead. It’s a memoir of a moment in two people’s lives where they lose (or stand to lose) many of the things they hold dear – both in material terms and as regards their health and well-being. It’s a work on rural homelessness. It’s a work that chimes with and expresses something about our times of austerity. It’s a comment on possessions and happiness to sit somewhere alongside (the dreadful) Marie Kondo. It’s a book about walking. It’s a book about crisis. This is a book on nature. This is a book about people. This is a love letter. What couldn’t you find within these pages?
Even the story of how the book came to be published is a source of fascination, as interviewer Andrew Davey explored with the author. Her journey from “noodles and £2.50 in our pockets” to sitting in a room with the head honchos of Penguin will surely inspire many who hear or read her to pick up their own pens and write.
One theme that came across strongly for me was community. From fragmentation to gathering back up again, how the simple act of moving forwards has brought her and Moth into contact with the kindness of strangers and how her writing has itself given hope and meaning to others in turn. Looking around at the packed Arts Centre at the enthralled audience, I was reminded how brilliantly the Festival of Words can bring the community together. Inspiring, moving and a great start to the weekend. Thanks FOW!
WORDS: BEN EVANS
PICTURE: PETER MOURANT