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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Review)

Genre:Contemporary Fiction,
Publication.Date  July 24th 2012
Published By:  Bond Street Books | 
WebsiteRachel Joyce | 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Goodreads
My review copy:A copy of the book received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Where to get:

Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie--who is 600 miles away--because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die. So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories--flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband. Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband's sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?

“The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.” 
“You got up, and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don't even know you can get there isn't a small miracle; then I don't know what is.”
“If we don't go mad once in a while, there's no hope.” 
“After the two drinks, she felt warm inside, and slightly indistinct at the edges.”
“The past was the past; there was no escaping your beginnings.” 

     The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a poignant, thought-provoking, and tremendously involving piece of work. Set in England, it's a powerful and inspirational story about love, friendship, mortality, and burning regrets. A story about faith, persistence, and opening oneself to the world and people around you. Confronting the ghosts of your past and mending broken - or almost broken - bonds with the people in your life. Above all, it's a deeply affecting tale of one man's journey - both physical as well as metaphysical - to say his final goodbyes to a once dear friend.

     Harold Fry, a retired sales representative, receives a letter from his former co-worker and old friend, Queenie, in which she informs him that she's dying from cancer. Through tears, Harold scribbles a polite reply, in which he tells Queenie that he's deeply sorry about her situation. He then puts on his waterproof jacket and walks out the door, headed for the mailbox at the end of the road. Upon reaching the mailbox, he decides to walk to the next one, and then the next one, until he finds himself at the opposite side of the town. Hungry, he stops at a convenience store to grab a bite. There he meets a young girl who tells him about her sick aunt, and that when it comes to battling disease science is not everything, it's also - or perhaps most of all - important to have faith. Because "if you have faith, you can do anything". Inspired by these words, Harold makes up his mind to do something that he'd never normally do, he decides to walk to Queenie's sickbed, convinced that this will somehow help her survive, even if only for a little longer. 

"Tell her Harold Fry is on his way. All she has to do is wait. . . . I am going to save her, you see. I will keep walking and she must keep living. Will you say that? . . . Tell her this time I won't let her down." 

     Harold is not much of a walker, his decision to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to Berwick upon Tweed, is a spur-of-a-moment one. With no phone and no good walking shoes, he's utterly unprepared for the journey, yet he's armed with faith and determination, and he won't give up until he reaches his destination. He believes in the importance of his journey. As long as he keeps on walking, Queenie will keep on living, waiting for him to arrive. On his way he meets all sorts of people and passes through all sorts of places. With every step, he sees something he never saw (or paid attention to) before, and he learns something new about the world and himself. With plenty of time to think, he ponders his life, and his relationship with his wife and son. He recalls past conversations, events and other memorable moments that shaped his future. And with every eccentric person he encounters, every life-changing thought that pops into his head, Harold begins to see his life in a new light. 

     This book affected me in so many ways. It really got under my skin and made me stop and think about the plot, its meaning, as well as how it all relates to my own life. After all, we all carry the burden of mortality through our lives; and we all have things we regret, things we wish we'd done differently. Some sort of unfinished business that prevents us from moving on and being happy. This book is about all those things we regret doing (or NOT doing), saying (or NOT saying).. It's about those paths we never walked, places we never explored, thoughts we dared not to think.. and how they ultimately shaped our lives and the lives of people around us. Most importantly, though, this story shows us that it's never too late to take the first step and embark on a life-changing journey. As long as the clock keeps on ticking, and our hearts keep on beating, there is always hope. And you should never give up. It's a beautiful, uplifting message, and one I'll never forget. 

     The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is beautifully written, subtle, cathartic, hopeful and almost poetic. Honest and heart-felt, it's a profoundly meaningful story about a deeply spiritual journey. A journey that is even more important than the getting to the destination. Though it comes really close to being overly sentimental, even cheesy, Harold's pilgrimage is in fact modest, unpretentious and obviously well-intentioned. The long walk to Queenie proves to be very difficult, painful, and seemingly too much for his old, unprepared self, but at the same time it's also eye-opening, introspective, and - ultimately - rewarding. A serene experience that purifies and revitalizes both the heart and the soul. 

I can't recommend this book enough.

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Amy said...

This sounds like an amazing book. I just saw this in my libraries digital catalog and put the audiobook on my list of books to check out. Fantastic review!!

Sara Jayne said...

This is on my tbr list and I'm moving it up to the top :)

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