I just read Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs. My agent recommended it to me. She said it just kind of drifts along for 250 pages and then it kicks you in teeth in the last chapter. (She may not have used exactly those words). Well, my agent is right, although of course if somebody’s told you that you’re going get kicked in the teeth, it’s not quite the surprise it would be otherwise.
The book isn’t specifically about walking, but the all-American heroine and narrator Nora embarks on a long flirtation with a brooding Lebanese professor named Skandar, and walking together figures largely in the seduction process. (Nora also has a passion for Skandar's wife, though they don't actually get it together physically). Nora and Skandar walk and talk. Skandar says,
“… In our lives, we span many worlds and many centuries, sometimes without taking a step.”
He said this while we were walking, and I laughed and gestured at the Cambridge streets around us and replied, “And sometimes you take many steps and stay in just one world.”
It’s the kind of book in which people say things like that. However, when things go pear-shaped in the relationship, as we knew they would, she eventually goes alone on a tour of Europe, and in Naples, as she experiences a sudden burst of feeling she says to herself, “Who is he who walks always beside you? No-fucking body thank you very much. I walk alone,” thereby invoking, and subverting, and very possibly insulting, TS Eliot, Ernest Shackleton, William Burroughs, and of course the Bible. Quite an achievement.
I haven’t been able to find a picture of Claire Messud walking (neither alone nor with others) but here she is standing in her house with some books. We know she has many more elsewhere.