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August 01, 2022

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce.

He understood that in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others. As a passerby, he was in a place where everything, not only the land, was open. People would feel free to talk, and he was free to listen. To carry a little of them as he went. - from the ARE of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry -

Harold Fry is an aging, unassuming man who lives in an English village with his wife Maureen. His days slip by with little variation. Then, one day over toast, the mail arrives with a letter from a woman Harold has not heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is writing to tell Harold she is dying in a hospice far away in the town of Berwick upon Tweed. Harold pens a response, and walks to the end of his driveway to mail the letter. But something strange happens. Instead of posting his letter, Harold keeps walking and walking and walking. And thus begins his pilgrimage -- a mission to walk nearly 600 miles to Queenie in the belief that as long as he walks, she will live.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a deeply moving story of loss, regret and ultimately forgiveness and redemption. Harold's walk unleashes memories he has buried for years, and uncovers the cracks in his marriage to Maureen, a woman who has retreated behind a wall of anger and accusation as a way to protect her own fragile emotions.

The novel takes the reader on a journey not only forward to Berwick upon Tweed, but backwards into Harold and Maureen's past where lives filled with joy, sorrow, misunderstanding, and loneliness are revealed.

As Harold walks, he encounters many people who support and encourage him. His journey is as much about touching the lives of others as it is about understanding himself -- in fact, the connection to other ordinary people provides Harold with a deeper sense of his own regrets and a better understanding of the human heart.

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. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human. - from the ARE of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry -

Rachel Joyce's narrative moves between Harold and Maureen and gradually begins to connect the dots in the lives of these ordinary yet extraordinary people. This is not a fast-paced plot, but it is compelling drama which propels the reader through its pages to an emotional conclusion. I found my throat constricting and tears welling in my eyes in the last pages of this beautifully written novel. Joyce captures the fragility of the human spirit and the complexity of marriage and love in the face of loss. She reminds us of the need for connection to others to enrich and bring meaning to our own lives.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is simply outstanding literature. I am glad I took Harold's journey with him. It is not a straight path from Harold's tiny village to the northern shore of England -- it weaves and hesitates, it falters and slows, it is a struggle ... but ultimately Harold's pilgrimage delivers the reader to a satisfying conclusion. Harold and Maureen, and certainly Queenie, will keep the reader company long after the final page of their story has been turned.

This novel, which was recently long listed for the prestigious 2012 Booker Prize, is highly recommended.

Five stars out of five.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as part of TLC Book Tours for review on my blog.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".

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Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-08-20
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