The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

It all began with a letter …

One day, not so long after he retired, Harold Fry received a letter from somebody he hadn’t heard from for years. Harold and Queenie had been work colleagues, and she had written to tell him that she was terminally ill, and that the end was near.

Harold, of course, wrote a reply, and then went out to take it to the post box. But when he got there he realised that what he had written was horribly inadequate. He didn’t know what to do, and so he walked on to the next post box. And he continued to walk, until a chance conversation made him realise what he should do.

And so Harold didn’t go home and he didn’t post his letter. He went on walking; all the way from his home in Devon to Queenie’s hospital bed in Berwick on Tweed.

And so this is the story of one man’s journey. And a strange mix of fable and realism, held together with lovely storytelling and a clear grasp of just what it is that makes us human.

Harold walked because he believed that his effort, his determination, his faith, would help Queenie. Because he needed a new purpose in life. And maybe because he wanted to escape.

There had been tensions between Harold and his wife, Maureen. And while Harold walked Maureen had to come to terms with what her husband was doing, and decide what she wanted to do.

As Harold walked he remembered many things, he observed the world around him,  he met so many different people. And the quiet, unremarkable man who they didn’t expect to ever see again became the confidante of many.

And much of the joy in the story is in those details. The hedgerow plants that Harold learns to identify. The doctor from Slovakia who can only find work as a cleaner. As Harold walks all of those details paint a picture of the world we live in.

In time Harold becomes a cause célèbre. Others, with very different motivations, want to walk with him. But they don’t really understand, and eventually Harold will leave them behind and the attention of the media will turn elsewhere. It’s uncomfortable and it’s frighteningly believable.

It’s also a distraction from the real stories that are emerging. The story of why Queenie was so important to Harold. The story of what went wrong between Harold and Maureen. The story of how Harold became the man he was. Those stories were completely captivating.

Characters that were at first simply drawn became deeper, fuller as their stories unfolded.

That mixture of fable and reality sometimes felt a little odd, the story sometimes felt a little uneven, but in the end it really didn’t matter.

I had to keep reading. I cared, and I needed to know what happened.

Because this is a story with a heart and a soul, a story that will make you laugh and cry, and a story that will remind you what really is important in life.

And the resolution is quite perfect …

10 responses

  1. Beautifully written book and I agree with all you have said. A beautifully written review, I hope it encourages more to go on a journey with Harold Fry.

  2. Wow, I like the sound of this! I love books that make you take a look at what’s really important in life. According to Amazon it will be released in July here in the States – I’ll put it on my wish list. Thanks for another great review!

  3. Ooh! Funnily enough this is the next book I am planning to read – I think I’ll enjoy it. The author is coming to Abingdon for World Book Night too.

  4. Pingback: “I would walk 500 miles” – well 627 actually… « Gaskella

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