Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce

Harold Fry lives in a small English village with his wife Maureen and is recently retired from his job at the local brewery.  Very little distinguishes one day from the next and as each day passes his wife grows more and more annoyed at every thing he does.  They sleep in separate rooms and something remains hanging in the air between them.

One morning Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessey, a woman he hasn't seen or heard from in twenty years.  Queenie is writing to let Harold know that she is in a hospice and she wants to say goodbye.  Harold writes her a quick reply and sets off to the mailbox on the corner, but when he arrives, he can't bring himself to post it.  So he walks to the next mailbox and then next until he convinces himself that he must deliver his message to Queenie in person.  There are six hundred miles between Harold and Queenie but he knows that as long as he is walking, she will stay alive.

With nothing but the clothes on his back, Harold embarks on his cross-country journey.  Along the way he meets a host of fascinating characters and finds himself reminiscing about the joys and losses of his life thus far.  And Maureen finds herself sitting at home, realizing that for the first time in a very long time, she misses having Harold around. 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is an endearing, heartwarming story of one man's journey across the country and through the years of his life that asks whether we can begin our lives again, no matter how many years we've already put in and how many regrets we have.

It is understandable that one might question whether this is the book for them or wonder how one could possibly read a story of a man walking six hundred miles to deliver a letter.  But the miles fly by as you find yourself engrossed in the story of an ordinary man trying to do something extraordinary. 

Joyce is a fantastic writer who has paid a lot of attention to detail.  The descriptions of the people that Harold meets and the scenery that he passes are beautiful, they instantly transport you to Harold's side.  His observations and voice come across as authentic of a man his age.  As I read the book, I imagined the fantastic Clive Swift (of Keeping Up Appearances and Old Guys fame) as Harold. 

The book did drag for me a bit towards the third quarter, around the time when others began to join him on his walk.  Maybe I was annoyed at these people and just wanted them to leave, but I felt that they took Harold away from what he was doing best, thinking and observing.  The book definitely picked back up afterward and as the revelations of Harold's life emerged, I found myself loving him even more, as well as understanding his relationship with Maureen.

I really enjoyed this book, even reading it in a day, and I think it is a solid debut by Rachel Joyce.  There isn't a whole lot of flash to it, and sometimes the miles can drag on just a tiny bit, but it is a thought-provoking look at mortality, love, loss and regret and how life can easily become drawn out day after day when we allow it to slip away.  I think the word that best describes this book is modest.  It doesn't set out to be some grand philosophical tome but has a way of speaking to everyone and making room in their hearts for Harold.  I will admit I am surprised to see it long listed for the Man Booker Prize however, I think it's a book that people of all walks of life will enjoy.

I received this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

1 comment:

  1. I read this recently and really enjoyed it but like you, my interested kind of waned a little bit once others joined him, I don't think the story needed that part at all but it was a touching and enjoyable book.

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