Best Foot Forward, Susie Kelly

Here we go again… mad English person does crazy walk. This particular walk crosses France from La Rochelle on the west coast to Lake Geneva on the eastern border with Switzerland.

It’s hard to know what to say about this book. It’s gently amusing and mildly frustrating. Fifty-something Kelly chooses not to explain the circumstances that have conspired to see her in France while her husband is still in England. Such matters are tackled in her prequel Two Steps Backwards. I also found her lack of fitness, preparation, suitable equipment, or abilities to read a map or use a compass only partially endearing. It’s true that she has some funny encounters, and her self-deprecating style makes for an easy read. But that’s almost the problem: it’s too easy. There’s information and background on the places she visits, again told wittily; but the book lacks the depth of Bryson’s comedy travels or the insights of Nick Crane’s eccentric hikes.

By far the best section of Best Foot Forward comes near the very end, where she teams up to walk with her friend Carole and Carole’s friend Liz. Things do not go well, but the reader’s enjoyment is not simply schadenfreude; Kelly seems to unleash her emotions in this section with the wit becoming sharper and the full realisation of what she is achieving coming to the fore. Don’t get me wrong, Kelly’s walk is a challenge, and she rises to it admirably; but it is only here as she thinks evil thoughts about her new companions who she felt had no right to “mess up my party”, that her writing starts to bite. Anyone who has tackled these sort of trips will sympathise greatly with our heroine.

This is the sort of book that makes it look deceptively easy to write travel literature; but despite its easy-going pace and style I found it an unsatisfactory read – albeit one interspersed with many chuckles.
It also has a fantastic opening two pages that are guaranteed to keep you reading on.

Overall verdict: Lightweight but entertaining
Bantam Books, 2003

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