The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
The silver-haired gentleman was in truth nothing like the man Harold imagined him to be. He was a chap like himself, with a unique pain; and yet there would be no knowing that if you passed him in the street, [...] It must be the same all over England. People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside.

Six months retired, Harold Fry goes about his daily routine doing pretty much nothing. His wife, Maureen, spends her days cleaning the house, as if someone might walk in any day. On one such boring day, a letter comes in the mail from a Queenie Hennessy saying she is dying from cancer. Suddenly overwhelmed, Harold wants to write something in his reply but is unable to pen down more than a few words. Still, he decides to post his insignificant letter and walks out. But when he arrives at the mailbox, he feels that he has arrived too soon. So on he walks to the next mailbox and then to the next, until he impulsively decides to walk 600 miles to the north to visit Queenie.

Until I actually started reading this book, I went back and forth on whether I really felt like reading it. Most of the time, the synopsis intrigued me - how can one not want to read about a man who just steps out to post a letter but eventually ends up considering a journey of 600 miles on foot? Other times, I felt like it would be such a boring thing to do - follow a single character while all the people he met passed by without making any major impact on me. Boy, was I wrong on the last part!

Rachel Joyce
Harold's journey is incredibly moving. What starts out as a ridiculous yet fascinating idea becomes something bigger which consumes Harold and his wife enormously. There are many reasons why Harold is doing his walk - almost all to do with the past that Harold and Maureen didn't address, but instead swept under the rugged interiors of their brain. Walking being a very solitary activity for Harold, he has more than enough time to relive his past experiences, especially the more painful ones. He starts out as a big part of the landscape, slowly diminishing into the horizon, as he meets more and more people and listens to their problems, seeing himself in them sometimes, and occasionally knowing their problem was bigger.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry starts almost slyly with no fanfare, mystery or intrigue. The first few chapters are all about Harold and his walk, so much so that Harold appears almost silly for even contemplating such an idea. Occasionally, there is a tease of something monumental, lurking around the corner of the pages, but it was still easy to miss the hints and carry on with Harold on his journey. The public interest in Harold's walk and the horde of groupies who follow Harold was an interesting satiric touch to the plot. Even though this interest culminated in an almost filmy climax, it was certainly something that mirrored the state of current affairs, with public interest waxing and waning with time.

I'm glad that I read about Harold's journey. This book is not just about a man trying to save a woman from cancer by walking, but also about a married couple that even forgot how they met or fell in love and let years widen the gap between them. It is also about the ordinariness and smallness of Harold's problems when put in the perspective of all the world's people and their problems, and also their significance to a man solely battling them.


I received this book for free for review from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.


18 comments:

Coffee & a BookChick said...

I loved this book and I admit I bawled like a baby in several scenes. Most of the time, I had a lump in my throat, such a good story.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Awesome review. I think I need this one on audio. It sounds like the kind of book I won't necessarily love but it will make me think and stick with me.

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

You're right - the plot does sound a little slow but everyone's raving over this book so I want to give it a try.

zibilee said...

Oh, man the more I read about this book, the more I want to grab it off the stack and give it a go. It sounds so wonderful and so full of heartfelt emotion, and I am so glad that you loved it. I haven't read any bad reviews of it yet!

Athira / Aths said...

I cried too once in a while. The book was really moving, and I loved how the emotions were so genuine!

Athira / Aths said...

This is definitely a book that will leave you thinking. I loved how deep and emotional it was, while still remaining light and lively occasionally.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you get to read this book. I was hesitant to start it, but once I got going, I couldn't stop.

Athira / Aths said...

I haven't read any bad reviews either. I hope you get to read it some time!

Oh hey Jude said...

That is a hard balance to strike. All the more intriguing.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

That was me. Sorry Aths darling.

Lisa Munley said...

What a fantastic review! While I was reading it I was reminded of Forrest Gump for some reason, ha ha. I'm thrilled that you enjoyed it so much. Thank you for being on the tour.

Athira / Aths said...

LOL,no problem. Yeah - a difficult balance to strike - occasionally I would cry, and sometimes I would smile - it had a good mix of everything.

Athira / Aths said...

Forrest Gump is a great comparison! Now that you mention it, I can't stop thinking of it either. There are some similar themes.

softdrink said...

I had no interest in the book until Ti assured me it was what we wanted Wild to be. Which sounds odd, but turns out she was right. There's so much more to this book than you'd think.

Tina Reed said...

i think I made 3-4 friends read this so far. I loved it. I loved that it was a simple story but well told, I loved how unassuming Harold and his wife were and although the media circus part was my least favorite part of the book, it was necessary.

Athira / Aths said...

I haven't read Wild, but since you liked Harold Fry better, I will give that a skip.

Athira / Aths said...

I also loved how unassuming Harold and his wife were, and I think that's what I loved best about the two characters.

Nina Happy Endings said...

Wow, very interesting. In the Netherlands there is a commercial about a men that takes a bit of this nutrition bar on the beach, suddenly he takes his clothes off and tells his friends he's going for a swim & ends up in England. This story kind of reminded me of that commercial. The story sounds very interesting!