Thursday, 29 January 2015

Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage by Jackie Griffiths

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of The Land Beyond Goodbye, Don’t Look Down and Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion. (

What We Thought: Jae is dissatisfied with her life. Though she has a child, Chloe, and a partner, Jason, she lives with her parents, has no outside job and is at a crossroads. Distant and withdrawn, she accepts Jason’s suggestion they take time apart. Jae feels the urge to explore a spiritual journey and she sets off on this quest, visiting a type of fairground where various religions and ‘isms’ have set out their stalls.

As she goes from one to the next learning their beliefs and practices she comes to realise none of the organised religions are for her. Neither are Humanism, Existentialism and so on. She decides she must find and follow her own path. At home she has a picture of a man leading an ox (one of the zen ox herding pictures). This image takes on greater significance for her when she encounters the man and the ox on her journey.

This book – and I’m not sure whether to call it a novel or a spiritual treatise – starts off couched in the real world of Jae’s ordinary life. Very soon it ventures into a more fantastical territory, reminiscent at times of Alice in Wonderland. Nothing is quite as it seems and Jae must face and defeat her own demons in the shape of the ox and the young ox herder. Just as she seems to have gained wisdom she is brought down again and understands she has reached a false summit. There is still further she must go.

Jae’s journey is the journey of a seeker after truth; it is the well-documented journey of spiritual advancement and ultimate enlightenment. At times beautifully written, at times overladen with unnecessary adverbs, it is always intriguing and honest in its intent. The present tense of the narrative threw me a little at first. I know from my own writing experiments that this can serve to distance the reader. However, I soon got into the rhythm of it and it became less distracting as I was drawn into the story.

I believe this is a first novel and if so, it is an excellent effort. Though not a total adverb-hater (I believe all words have their place), I would advise the writer to resist their lure in future. This book would be sharper and just as vivid without most them.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Spiritual journeys, metaphysical narratives, zen.

Avoid if you dislike: Anything about religion or philosophy or fantastical adventures.

Ideal accompaniments: Crystal clear spring water.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Metaphysical Fiction, Religion & Spirituality.

Available from Amazon

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