Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Random House, 7/24/2012
Advanced Reading Copy, 286 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812993295


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:

In The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Harold Fry is a retired salesman who sets off on an unplanned cross country trek wearing yachting shoes and a simple jacket.  When Queenie Hennessey, a friend Harold worked with 20 years ago, writes him from a hospice that she is dying of cancer, he immediately writes an awkward reply but, after a chance encounter on the way to post the letter, he decides he must deliver his message in person. Harold believes that his sacrificial journey will somehow make Queenie live longer.  Thus begins his unlikely pilgrimage that lasts 87 days and covers 627 miles.

As Harold steps out in faith and sets off on his journey, his real motives are slowly revealed. The quest gives Harold ample time to take the opportunity to reflect on his life. Harold leaves his wife, Maureen, without a word of explanation until after he starts his journey.

Maureen and Harold have long standing issues they need to ponder and analyze. Both need to delve into some hard truths about their lives and marriage. While they both perceive the failing state of their marriage differently, unknown to each other, they actually come to many of the same realizations even while they are unable to talk about their feelings. They need to confront the truth about their son. Harold needs to face some hard facts from his childhood.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry starts off on a rather optimistic, redemptive note.  It certainly doesn't initially feel like it is going to address any serious issues or face anything too complex. But, while Harold is walking to save Queenie's life, he is really examining his own life. And, while Maureen initially worries over his mental state, she eventually must also deal with herself.

Chapters alternate between Harold and Maureen and surprised me with the seriousness of the topics confronted in Harold and Maureen's lives. What initially seems to be a whimsical decision is fueled by guilt, regret, and the need for atonement.  The novel seriously covered what it is to be loved as a child and an adult. It scrutinizes what love, marriage, parenthood and friendship can be, as well as regret, forgiveness, denial, and grief.

I was really cheering for Harold on his pilgrimage and found myself telling him to go get a sensible pair of boots for hiking or a backpack or... but that is part of charm of this novel. Charm that pulls you in and then, as Harold is walking through real physical pain, he also starts to reveal some other pain in his life. By the time this novel was over I was totally enthralled and definitely a fan. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.  



Rachel Joyce’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, July 2nd:  Book Club Classics!
Tuesday, July 3rd:  Alison’s Bookmarks
Thursday, July 5th:  Literate Housewife
Friday, July 6th:  Amused by Books
Monday, July 9th:  A Bookworm’s World
Tuesday, July 10th:  My Book Retreat
Wednesday, July 11th:  Under My Apple Tree
Monday, July 16th:  BookNAround
Tuesday, July 17th:  Life in the Thumb
Wednesday, July 18th:  Luxury Reading
Thursday, July 19th:  Book Chatter
Monday, July 23rd:  Sarah Reads Too Much
Tuesday, July 24th:  Write Meg!
Wednesday, July 25th:  Coffee and a Book Chick
Thursday, July 26th:  It’s a Crazy, Beautiful Life
Monday, July 30th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, July 31st:  Joyfully Retired
Thursday, August 2nd:  A Musing Reviews
Monday, August 6th:  Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, August 8th:  Boarding in my Forties
Thursday, August 9th:  Bibliosue
Friday, August 10th:  Chaotic Compendiums
Monday, August 13th:  The Picky Girl
Tuesday, August 14th:  Col Reads
Wednesday, August 15th:  Caribousmom
Friday, August 17th:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, August 20th:  The House of the Seven Tails
Tuesday, August 21st:  She Treads Softly
Wednesday, August 22nd:  Knowing the Difference

Thursday, August 23rd:  Reading on a Rainy Day

1 comment:

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I've been hearing such amazing things about this book - it sounds like one that really sticks with reader long after the book is closed for the last time.

Thanks for being on the tour!