The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Release date: 2012 / 336 pages
Synopsis(from Amazon):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… 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…
Review: After I finished journeying with Harold Fry, I understood why Helen Simonson (the author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) began her own review with the adjective, “Marvelous!” I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and although it is different from Pettigrew most respects, there is a fundamental, authentic sense of satisfaction at the turning of the last page that I felt with both novels.
In his mid-sixties, on his way to the post box to mail a letter, Harold Fry decides quite uncharacteristically and unexpectedly to instead hand deliver the letter — by walking across England (from Kingsbridge, South Hams to Berwick-upon-Tweed). Shod in boating shoes with only his wallet, Harold begins an odyssey that allows him to come to peace with his unfortunate childhood and how this shaped his own identity as a father. He thinks back through mistakes he himself made as a parent and as a husband — and meets a charming cast of fellow travellers on his way.
But what makes Harold Fry so satisfying is Joyce’s direct, yet resonant storytelling. Within a few paragraphs the reader is completely sympathetic to both Harold and his wife Maureen, even though they are each a bit irritating (at least initially). Although Harold’s journey seems physically unlikely, Joyce includes enough realistic obstacles and challenges to make this aspect of the novel believable; however, the veracity of the journey is quite beside the point. The true gift of this novel is its spirit of redemption and perseverance, even when least likely.
I thoroughly recommend Harold Fry and believe most book clubs would find this an enjoyable read. If you are interested in winning a copy, drop me a comment below!
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