Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The reaction to Judith Tebbutt's 'Long Walk Home'

Judith Tebbutt, July 2013. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Since its publication by Faber in early July Judith Tebbutt’s A Long Walk Home - the writing of which I had the privilege of assisting Jude with - has spent a month in the Top 10 of the Sunday Times bestseller list and featured in a superb extracted reading by Penny Downie for Radio 4’s Book of the Week; while Judith herself gave a highly insightful interview to Kira Cochrane of the Guardian and also spoke with Dan Damon of the BBC World Service, whose broadcasts she'd followed keenly during her captivity. 

The reviews of the book, meanwhile, have been uniformly splendid and written with a notable empathy. Below is a selection:

A riveting tale of human fortitude… Not only is it an action-packed account of a kidnapping and hostage situation, it is also the story of how [Judith Tebbutt] triumphed psychologically against terror, semi-starvation and isolation… The result is a page-turner… Fast-paced though the action is, it is the psychological story that compels.’ Sian Griffiths, Sunday Times (£)

Exquisitely painful reading… Her account of learning to live in freedom without either her husband or her job (which she was obliged to give up, as the publicity surrounding her case made her too conspicuous to continue her highly sensitive work) is deeply affecting…. Extreme as her experiences of violence and privation were, it is the small details that are the most plangent in this account, co-written with Richard T Kelly: the freshly cooked samosas secretly passed to her by Amina, the pirates’ cook; the incongruously pretty sequins on the curtains of her prison and – most bitter of all – the loss of David’s wedding ring, stolen from his body before it was flown back to Britain… When she allows herself to express emotion, as in her final chapters on resuming what will never again be her ‘everyday’ life, it becomes clear what heroic self-control has been required to tell her story.’ Jane Shilling, New Statesman

Judith Tebbutt’s story is inspiring, and leaves you with the feeling that if this woman could show such fortitude, then so might we all… Her story of terror, despair and survival is as gripping as any thriller, yet told sparely, with no self-pity. It is a testament to the resilience of the individual spirit, but also the the strength of family love… Vivid and detailed enough to place you firmly in the shadow of this extraordinary woman… A book which is a passionate affirmation of life.’ Bel Mooney, Daily Mail

This unflinchingly honest memoir, written with Richard T Kelly, touches on Tebbutt's childhood in ‘a working-class northern household’, yearning for escape yet without high expectations of ‘being able to make my way in the world’; she defied the odds to do just that… With great emotional acuity, Tebbutt offers a raw insight into grief and the imaginative capacity to conjure loved ones absent through distance or death. Tebbutt's training as a social worker, dealing with vulnerable, violent people, proved vital in interacting with her captors, championing humanity in the most inhumane situation. Her survival strategies recall Mandela's disciplined prison regime in his memoir Long Walk to Freedom… This powerful book captures the urgency of telling even the darkest of stories, and evokes the power of resilience in adversity. ‘I have my freedom, so what am I going to do with it?’ asks Tebbutt. A book that begins with a horrific death becomes a clarion call to cherish whatever we might have left of life.’ Anita Sethi, Observer
A detailed, touching account, revealing not just how she coped but also her tenderness for her husband.’ Colin Freeman, Daily Telegraph

‘This above all is a story of human fortitude. Of how isolated, intimidated and almost starved, one brave middle-aged woman resolved to be a survivor.’ Gerard Henderson, Daily Express

‘This unfussy book gives her version, firmly… It is not, however, a self-aggrandising chronicle. Mrs Tebbutt is a wonderfully straightforward narrator (assisted by Richard T. Kelly) and the book rings true to her desire merely to tell ‘any future grandchildren’ how a person can survive adversity and grief.’ Libby Purves, The Times (£)