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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Shadows, Shells, and Spain is a literary fiction novel written by John Meyer. While others basked in the sun and warmth of Palma, Jamie was indifferent to the charms of Mallorca. He had been searching for his wife for ten months now, with no word from her or her insufferable mother to help him understand why she had left, where she was, and when she would come home again. Pam had often spoken longingly of vacations on tropical islands, and Mallorca had been a recurring theme, so when her mother hinted that Spain may have been her destination, Jamie dropped everything and traveled to Mallorca. He was sharing an apartment with another ex-pat, tutoring Spanish speakers in English to make ends meet, and pounding the streets each day looking for the clues that would lead him to his wife. Then, suddenly, a breakthrough. He stopped by The English Book Shop to see if the proprietor, English Rob, had any new clients to refer to him, when Rob handed him a package. It had actually been sitting in the dusty book shop for some months now, forgotten until that morning. In it was a letter from his mother-in-law and, nestled inside the package, a smaller envelope containing a letter from Pam.
Shadows, Shells, and Spain stood out from the nonfictional travel memoirs I’ve read about the Camino by virtue of it being a novel, rather than nonfiction. As I sat down to read it, I wondered how it would differ from those remarkable memoirs I’ve read in the past. I’ve long been fascinated by the Camino, the Appalachian Mountain Trail and the Pacific Coast Trails, and by the fortunate souls who find a way to extricate themselves from the clutches of modern life and responsibility, and set off to find themselves on the trail. Meyer’s Jamie was an exception to the rule in that his reason for being on the Camino was external, was in effect forced upon him by Pam, and my affection and admiration for this lost soul was immediately and immeasurably enhanced as he took on the challenge of a month-long pilgrimage.
Anyone who has hiked the Camino, or been an armchair traveler and hiked perched upon others’ shoulders, will delight in Shadows, Shells, and Spain. There’s still the camaraderie, the spirit of the Camino which shimmers on every page of this compelling tale, but there’s more. Meyer’s own experiences on the Camino and his love of history combine to make this one of the more authentic Camino reads yet. I loved reading about the history of the Camino and each of the little towns Jamie walks through, and found myself sitting with a map of the Camino on my laptop, tracing his journey as I learned more about Spanish history than I thought possible. Jamie’s search for his wife, who’s always, tantalizingly, one step ahead is stunning in its simplicity and single-minded focus, and his Camino may indeed prove to be everything Pam had hoped it would be for him. Pilgrimages have been the source of fascination, magic and mystery since The Canterbury Tales ignited readers’ imaginations, and this tale continues that spellbinding tradition. Shadows, Shells, and Spain is most highly recommended.