The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

Mount TBR 2013

There was one period, in this year’s reading, where three TBR novels came into my hands to blow away my mind and to be truthful left me a trifle depressed. To read three ‘debut’ novels in a row of such high caliber makes one wonder why one writes at all:( No I kid you – it was a wonderful collection and I finished awed and excited.

The first I read was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. What a title Harold Fry! you can tell from his name this is no superman type hero. I still don’t really know what made it such a pleasure to read. On the surface it is not a story to entice and tempt but I assure you it is a wonderful tale. It is not a fast paced novel, it is not overflowing with action led series, but it grips attention.

Harold and his wife live a dull, comfortable and sterile life.One morning he receives a letter from a former friend, Queenie, one he has not seen or thought off for years. He learns she is dying. So far unremarkable, Harold writes a letter and just pops out to post it to his friend, 467 miles away.

Okay, then it becomes his pilgrimage, Harold decides to deliver the letter himself. Unprepared, no map, compass not even a mobile phone and wearing yachting shoes he sets his feet on the path. Harold has decided to walk to Queenie.

He phones his wife later that day to tell her where he is and what he is doing and this is the first clue that the two have been living parallel lives for some time. He also phones to leave a message for Queenie, telling her he was walking to her and she is to stay alive until he gets there!

This is the story of Harold’s 87 day trek and those who help or hinder along the way. It is a story of one man finding himself and slaying a few personal demons along the way.

Harold accepts that part of his plan has to include stepping from his comfort zone and allow other’s to intrude. To accept everyone, judge no-one. All the peculiarities of strangers, and in the doing of this not only hears their confessions of hopes and fears but makes connections and friends. Harold becomes a benevolent confessor to these others and so to himself as he unravels the puzzles of his own life and history

Why does he wish so passionately to visit Queenie and talk face to face, so much that he suffers all the pain and discomfort a walk such as this entails? Why would an unfit pensioner even contemplate leaving his comfortable life? The revealing of this comes about slowly and naturally as Harold travels, as he garners followers, becomes a celebrity in the media, even being followed up in cyberspace on social networks.

While he walks Maureen has to examine their relationship and her true feelings for him, she is aided in this by the next door neighbour,Rex, who has recently lost his wife and cannot reconcile himself to her death.

Rachel Joyce has beautifully portrayed a country of ‘ordinary’ people, of course no-one is ordinary and this comes across so well.A wonderfully quiet tale of endurance, love, loss, death and acceptance. There is nothing depressing despite the subject matter, despite my tears( books can do that to moi:)

This book also ticked my New Author challenge box


3 thoughts on “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

  1. This book sounds amazing, Alberta! Thank you so much for writing about it!


  2. Not sure if my first attempt at commenting went through… So here’s a second! This book sounds GREAT! Thanks for writing about it!


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