Friday, March 18, 2016

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

Summary: Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live. A novel of 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. (Summary and pic from

My Review: It is hard to describe why this book would be as good as it was. First off, it’s a quite simple story, really. A man receives a mysterious letter from an old friend who’s dying of cancer. He writes to send his condolences, walks out to his mailbox to mail the letter, and keeps on walking. Almost the entire book—300+ pages—is of him walking. But lest you get confused and think this sounds really boring, let me assure you that it is anything but.

Harold Fry is an ordinary man who’s made a lot of mistakes, mostly sins of omission. He has a sad past and it’s no wonder he’s turned out the way that he has, but this story is about his transformation. His wife has become embittered over the years, so the story is about her transformation as well. But I think the thing that makes this book extraordinary is that it’s a life changing journey for the reader as well.

Good books should not just make us enjoy the story and what the author has created, but should really allow us to change ourselves as well. I feel like this book did this for me. It was a story of life—the people we meet, the journeys we take, the struggles we endure, and how we react to those struggles. It is one of those books that is written about one thing but is also completely about something else entirely as well. I felt myself sympathizing with Harold Fry, and at times even felt myself experiencing those same feelings of loss or misstep in my own life. It’s a book that is painful and beautiful not just because the character is experiencing painful and beautiful things, but because as a reader I was allowed to evaluate how I felt about similar kinds of things that I had experienced.

The writing in this book is quite beautiful. Joyce is able to take a simple story—but also a very complex one—and make it accessible and beautiful and completely full. When I look back at reading this book I have a clear and vivid image of what things looked like, who Harold was and who he encountered, and the story. It was like I was there experiencing it with him, and that was beautiful.

We read this book in my book club and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a lot to discuss and each person had gotten different things out of it. Sharing those things and discussing our experience as a whole made for one of the best discussions our book club has had in a long time. It made for a great book club read.

I highly recommend this book. It is poignant and beautiful. It is deep and also sad. But very happy, too.  It is, actually, a lot like life and for that it was just remarkable.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Harold does encounter some bad language-spouting people in his journey, but for the most part this book is clean and certainly on the milder side for the Adult Fic genre.

1 comment:

Susan@ Reading World said...

I loved this book! It would be a good choice for a book club read.


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