#438 ~ The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

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.

tlc-logo-resizedToday 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.

My Review

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.



  • At 2012.07.05 08:40, Amritorupa Kanjilal said:

    I can’t take part in the giveaway, but I loved your review… the book sounds really fascinating, particularly since you compared it to There But For The which I loved.
    Do visit!

    • At 2012.07.05 11:32, Ti said:

      I love it! I am about 100 pages in and I am really enjoying it so far. No need to count me in the giveaway as I am reading it now.

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      • At 2012.07.05 12:19, bermudaonion(Kathy) said:

        This sounds thought provoking. Harold sounds like a great character to root for.

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        • At 2012.07.06 00:44, Twisty J said:

          This sounds like such a great concept for a book- simple but pointed. I would love to be able to take a pilgrimage, but it would be a bit more aimless, I suppose. I have no real destination in mind, but I have always enjoyed the idea of backpacking for a summer and just walking and seeing where it takes me.

          Thanks for the chance and the great review!

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          • At 2012.07.06 10:44, Karen White said:

            I seem to be interested in books about marriage these days (reading Wife 22 right now) – sadly, it’s hard to imagine fitting a pilgrimage into my life right now. But letting go of practicality, I’d love to reverse the cross country trip I took with my husband to move to LA 14 years ago, and see what life adventure that’d take us on next.

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            • At 2012.07.06 10:48, Eliza said:

              This sounds like a fantastic book. Even if I don’t win, I’m going to put it on my To Read list.

              I don’t know about a pilgrimage, but I’ve always liked the idea of setting off on a trip without an exact idea of where I was going or when.

              • At 2012.07.06 10:59, Carl said:

                Tremendous, I’d love to get a copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I first heard of it. A pilgrimage, I suppose there are circumstances that would get me started on one, though I’d definitely wear better shoes. The illness of a friend is a very good reason.

                • At 2012.07.06 12:32, Julie Merilatt said:

                  I really enjoyed this one (no need to include me on the giveaway). Doesn’t it make you want to have a cuppa?

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                  • At 2012.07.06 12:52, Elisabeth said:

                    I like Julie would take a pilgrimage to see friends/ relatives. I missed several opportunities to see an old college friend and she recently passed away. Regret is terrible to live with.

                    Thanks for the giveaway!

                    • At 2012.07.06 13:11, Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said:

                      This sounds like an amazing book! I can’t wait to read it myself. I’m sorry you missed your chance to thank the author in person – that is one of the things I love most about BEA.

                      Thanks for being on the tour!

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                      • At 2012.07.07 21:49, Amy said:

                        I’m not sure where I’d take a pilgrimage to, but I suppose I would take one to see long-lost friends or relatives, or if I really needed to clear my head/get away from life for awhile. This book sounds great!

                        • At 2012.07.09 00:10, FABR Steph said:

                          This sounds quite different than what I had thought that it was. Thank you for your review. I will have to give it a try.

                          • At 2012.07.14 17:46, Jennifer said:

                            Congratulations! You are the lucky winner! I’ll be sending you an email.

                          • At 2012.07.12 14:40, nfmgirl said:

                            I learned about this one from someone in my book club, and quickly added it to my Wish List. Thanks for the review and giveaway!

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