In stages over four years, during the terminal illness of his daughter Francesca and finishing after her death from Aids-related cancer, Nicholas Luard followed the pilgrims' way of St James from Le Puy in France to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. It was a long and often painful walk, undertaken in hope of reconciliation with his daughter - relations between the two were frequently stormy - and in hope of sorting out the implications of her loss. The intensely readable, often moving book that resulted - a narrative interwoven with "letters" to Francesca - may prove heart's ease and soul's balm to many. Others, even if deeply moved at times, will read some parts at least with merriment, dismay or even nausea.

The problem is not sentimentality so much as a kind of reckless openness. This allows the author, even writing on his daughter and her illness, to put himself forward as a latterday Rider Haggard character in a world of strong men and fair women.

Declaring his allegiance to his "old friend", the late Sir Laurens van der Post, Luard soon presents himself as one who has boxed as a welter- weight for the Army. "Even 30 years on I was still well muscled and running marathons." There is to be a lot more like this about himself and his (invariably distinguished) friends. As for his own surviving children (two died near birth), they "grew and flowered - with grace and elegance and loveliness in the case of the three girls, with thighs like tree-trunks and rock-hard muscles in the case of their big brother".

This naive mythologising is a shame, partly since Francesca sounds as if she deserved better; and also because when Luard just gets on with the story, the writing is clear and often engaging, with all the lyrical flair of his earlier book on Andalusia.

The opening stages of the walk in France are sketched in with delight. The mountain and meadow landscape sounds wonderful, the interaction between father and daughter at this stage unforced and agreeable. The encounters with other pilgrims, and the cyclical way in which they repeat, are also well observed.

All the French section bar the Boys' Own bits makes sympathetic reading; and as one who has completed the second stage (the 500 miles across northern Spain) I can vouch for the general truth of his account of the Spanish half. This part is difficult, both physically and psychologically. Mood - and temper - can vary; there is a sense of pressure, of the intensifying of the pilgrimage; and mounting haste to get the job done.

Luard arrives with religious faith, though not his feet, intact. And even if solutions over Francesca are not entirely found, the book itself becomes the memorial offered by the father. Though most uneven, The Field of the Star deserves a small place in the enormous literature on the pilgrimage; and the French part at least will inspire others to walk the same way.

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