A delightfully funny and inspiring novel about a very modern pilgrimage, and one woman’s chance to rediscover what she’s lost.
‘I watch the highway go by and ponder my situation. I am on the run from my husband’s divorce lawyer, my mojo is still missing in action and my demon ex-lover is lurking . . . But, all things considered, my pilgrimage is going well . . .’
Arkie used to be a trendspotter, running a successful business advising companies on ‘the next big thing’. Until she lost her marriage and her mojo along with it.
Her eccentric new friend Haruko suggests a pilgrimage in Japan. But funds are tight, so instead Arkie’s going on a very Australian trip, to all the ‘Big Things’.
With Haruko as her guide, magic is everywhere. A Buddha appears next to the Big Redback, the Big Macadamia rises from the jungle like a lost temple and inside the Big Shell she can hear a tinkling voice, reminding her of the child she never had.
As her improbable adventure unfolds, realisation dawns: could it be that, despite her celebrated foresight, Arkie’s been missing what was right before her eyes?
A spiritual pilgrimage of self discovery, combined with a tour of the east coast of Australia’s big tourist icons, is the story behind Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing. This is the third novel published by Australian author Lisa Walker but the first I have read by this author.
At the centre of Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Best Thing is flawed protagonist Arkie. She is a forty something woman who simultaneously experiences crisis in her marriage and career. Arkie feels the world is against her and resolves to end it all on December 31st, unable to bear the start of another year in her own personal hell. Enter Haruko, a highly unlikely ally and stranger, who appears in Arkie’s life just as she is going to end it. Saving Arkie from throwing herself on the tracks of the Byron Bay railway, Haruko, a Japanese tourist, suggests Arkie embark on a pilgrimage. Taking inspiration from her Japanese culture, Haruko devises a plan with Arkie to rid herself of her personal baggage and reinvent her life through embarking on an Australian pilgrimage. Instead of a tour of Japanese temples which is essential to any Japanese pilgrimage, Haruko and Arkie use their lack of funds and current location to tour Australia’s big icons. Together, they move from one big thing to another along the tourist highway of northern NSW and Queensland. Their adventure takes them from the giant cow, to the giant banana, prawn and redback spider among others. At each stop Arkie and Haruko meet an eclectic cast of characters. They also gain deeper meaning from the giant structures and cheesy gift shops that define their road trip. At the conclusion of the pilgrimage, Arkie emerges with a new sense of determination as a renewed woman.
I have had Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing book on my shelves since this book was released. I was initially a little apprehensive about reading it due to the quirky vibe it gives off. I’m also not a fan of the spiritual narrative genre. Having said this, I did enjoy this novel and it actually compelled me to immediately pick up another spiritual journey based novel once I finished it. What appealed to me most about this book was the location of the novel. It was a welcome opportunity to journey with Arkie across the east of Australia. As I live on the West Coast of Australia, I have only had the opportunity to add the big ram to my list of ‘big’ things I have visited. I haven’t had the chance to visit any of the big tourist icons mentioned in the novel but I felt inspired by the book to take a road trip to see these cultural icons of Australia.
Arkie is an interesting character, she is flawed and I had a bit of a job sympathising with her. There are elements of her character that many readers I am sure will draw comparisons with – such as mid life crises, career dives and marriage/divorce troubles. The introduction and pairing of Japanese tourist Haruko was a good move by Walker. Haruko provides good balance to Arkie’s character. She also provides an interesting cultural insight to the book, by adding elements of her own background to the novel and the pilgrimage itself. Minor characters and people that the two encounter on their pilgrimage compliment the novel well. When the reader reaches the ending, a sense of relief and feeling of being ‘reborn’ comes to mind. It is a book that the reader can’t help but feel inspired by in some form or another.
Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Best thing was an entertaining read and I’m glad I gave the book a chance after it sat on my shelves unread for some time. I enjoyed taking away some hidden messages from the book on self acceptance and the positives gained from forming beliefs from the spiritual realm. If you are interested in spiritual narratives in the same vein as Into the Wild and Eat, Pray, Love this book has a distinctly Australian twist and may be just what you are searching for.