Sunday, 24 February 2013
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Paperback, 357 pages
Published January 3rd 2013 by Black Swan (first published July 2012)
ISBN 0552778095 (ISBN13: 9780552778091)
Blurb: “Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie--who is 600 miles away--because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die. So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories--flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband. Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband's sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?”
“If we don't go mad once in a while, there's no hope.”
― Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
I have been very lax recently with reviewing what I'm reading, sorry everyone! It’s a shame I didn’t have time to write a review of this immediately after I finished it, I would have a lot more to say than now!
What I remember overall is that this is such a lovely, inspiring and life-affirming story. The author evokes a connection with all the characters in the story, no matter how briefly they are part of the story – and there are a lot of small meetings as Harold travels the country – or if you even like them; Rachel Joyce has created characters that seem real. I felt like there were thousands of big and small events in their lives which made them who they are when we meet them in the story.
The idea behind the story really appealed to me as well. How often in our lives do we wish we could just get away for a while? In Harold’s case, he leaves for a very noble reason, his pilgrimage is a walk of faith that if he travels by foot all the way to Berwick-upon-Tweed(?) he will be able to save Queenie’s life and atone for the mistakes he has made in the past in his friendship with her.
The elusive son David makes you think about what happens when parents and children love each other but just can’t communicate with each other or even possibly like each other very much. I’m sure everyone has moments when they are frustrated with their families and vice versa, but I can’t imagine this level of incompatibility. Reading the way David spoke to his parents, but especially to Harold, makes me want to rant about how young people should be more respectful to their elders and mutter about kids these days, even though I’m only twenty-one – blimey I sound like a grump.
Anyway, the journey itself is beautifully described both in terms of the scenery and of Harold’s emotions as he overcomes the barriers that he meets. Meanwhile, his wife Maureen, who has been left behind, provides a sharp contrast to the new experiences that Harold is discovering and the past that he is finally coming to terms with, while she finally learns to deal with past events – I don’t want to spoil it! – from the home where it has been ignored for so long.
The only part of the book that I didn’t really like, but still felt realistic, was when Harold’s pilgrimage became high jacked by people who were much more concerned with their own lives and the possibility of media attention than the fact that Harold just wanted to complete his walk and didn’t want or need their interference. Again I could probably rant here about the media but I’ll keep this focussed on the book! The stories of random generosity were inspiring and made me think about how I should do more to help others, not just myself or the people I know.
This is such a moving story and I will admit to shedding a few tears but it really leaves you with a sense of hope and warmth. This is not just about a walk, it’s about life and all of its sorrow and joy, and how it’s not perfect but we’re united in being human and trying to deal with it all. This book is basically just really lovely and thought-provoking, 8 out of 10.