The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Published by: Random House
Published on: July 24, 2012
Page Count: 336
Genre: General Fiction
My Reading Format: ARC signed by the author at BEA 2012
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook
Giveaway: Random House has generously offered one of my lucky readers a complimentary copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This contest is open to residents of the US (no P.O. Boxes, please). For a chance to win, leave a comment on this post, telling me what it is that might prompt you to take a pilgrimage of your own.
Today it is my great pleasure to be Rachel Joyce’s host on her TLC Book Tour. This tour is to celebrate her debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
I have a lot of fun working as a tour host for TLC Book Tours. They always have great books and authors on tour. Check out their website for more information on this tour and the others that they are hosting.
Harold Fry is a retiree who has gotten into a funk in life and most especially within his marriage. Not only do he and Maureen sleep in separate rooms, Maureen is more interested in their only son David. Harold, who was unwanted by his own parents, was always felt tentative with his son. This all adds up to many regrets. One day he gets a personal letter in the mail. It was from an old colleague, Queenie Hennessy. Harold hasn’t heard from her in 20 years and is saddened to see that she has terminal cancer. As with everything else in his life, Harold has regrets as to how they parted company and is unsure of what to say. He writes a short reply and heads to post the letter. When he gets to the box, he finds that he can’t send the letter. He decides to walk a little further to the next box. Almost before he realizes what he’s doing, he has set off on a walk from his home in Kingsbridge to Queenie’s hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, some 600 miles away.
This book surprised me. I was anticipating a somewhat quirky novel about an elderly man who simply decides to take a cross country trek. While that is was Harold sets off to do, this novel had serious things to say about love, marriage, parenthood, regrets, and the nature of friendship. The story of the starvation of the Fry marriage was fascinating. We get both perspectives as the story of Harold’s walk unfolds. Certainly there are bigger issues that create the most damage, but the every day details such as sharing small parts of one’s life and basic communication were the cement that built the walls between them. Harold’s encounters with everyday people along the way pinpointed how lonely human beings can be when we feel more comfortable telling strangers our stories than we do to those we hold most dear.
Earlier this year I listened to there but for the by Ali Smith. In that novel, also set in England, a man locks himself in the spare bedroom of people he didn’t know. There is endless speculation as to why he did what he did and eventually people began to add their own meaning to what was happening. The concept behind The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry reminded me very much of that novel. Harold’s vision for what he is undertaking takes shape for him the longer he walks. Once he’s figured it out for himself, he encounters a journalist. His story becomes the story and his mission to save Queenie takes on the near mythological feel that only today’s media can create. Rachel Joyce’s novel is more accessible than Smith’s and it really highlighted modern society’s thirst for meaning.
Rachel Joyce is a thoughtful and entertaining writer. I cared deeply for both Harold and Maureen. I wanted them to turn so many years of regret and sadness into something worth cherishing. I was interested in the journey from the very beginning and enjoyed puzzling together what motivated the two of them to act as they did. I wish I had had the opportunity to have read this novel before BEA so that I could have thanked her in person for a lovely story of a man who turns a simple walk to the mail a letter into a life altering adventure. I highly recommend The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.