Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.

My thoughts: How can a book be so quirky, sad, yet bittersweet? And so full of wisdom?

Harold has been living on the fringes as a spectator all of his life. He retired recently and is quietly sitting at breakfast where his wife, Maureen, berates him lightly then hands him a post. It's a simple letter from an old friend who thanks him for his friendship and goodbye, she's dying of cancer.

Harold pens a letter to thank her and tell her goodbye and walks out to post it. But then he keeps walking and plans on walking until he reaches his old friend, Queenie, who is over 500 miles away. Deep in Harold's heart, he holds old regrets, pains from his past, disappointment from relationships, and shame for not being a better man.

Harold walks and thinks. His pilgrimage reflects much of what he thinks. On days where he is weighed down with past disappointments, he can barely move his feet yet he trudges along. Most of the time, he is quite British and refuses help. Occasionally, and with great humility, he accepts help on the way. Harold's pilgrimage is allegorical along with being literal. Meanwhile, his wife, Maureen, sits at home and, with the help of a neighbor, she makes a few personal adjustments, as well.

By the end of the book, the reader understands Harold and Maureen much better. The reader knows why Harold felt compelled to walk. And walk. And walk. Those who have been to England, will recognize a few of the towns and cathedrals. I really enjoyed returning to Wells in my mind. I even remembered the cathedral had flying buttresses.

If at all possible, read the book with a British accent. If not possible, re-read this review with a British accent. I wrote it with a British accent. It just sounded better inside my head that way.

 *I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Anne said...

I just received this one in the mail last week. Thanks for the great review, I am now really looking forward to reading it!

Anonymous said...

I did my best British accent while reading your review (not that my accent is all that great ...) - what fun!

Thanks for being on the tour.