Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

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.

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Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Author: Rachel Joyce

Published: 2012 by Random House

Time it took me to read: August 23 – September 19

Rating: 4 out of 5

Harold Fry is a man of the background. All his life he stayed back and watched. How is mother left him, how his father kicked him out, how his son and wife grew more and more distant and how his only friend, Queenie, was unjustifiably sent away. But all that changes when he receives a letter from Queenie when she is on her deathbed. Harold decided to do something for a change. Without any preparation, not even brining his cellphone, he sets off to go see Queenie one last time. All the way from the southern village of Kingsbridge to the northern town of Berwick, right on the Scottish border. While he walks, he thinks back on his life and about where exactly, it all started to go wrong.

Along the way, Harold meets many people sympathetic to his quest. He often gets food, water and plasters for his many blisters.  But when even the media gets wind of his heroic journey, things start to get a little out of hand.

Will Harold make it to Berwick in one piece? And more importantly, will he make it before Queenie passes away? Harold believes she will. For as long as he is walking, she is waiting for him.

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My mother recommended this book to me as a ‘fun, light summer read’. Now, I don’t know which book she’s been reading but I wouldn’t classify this book as neither light nor fun. I thought it was a very heavy, very serious book. While Harold walks he thinks about many situations where he has fallen short. Mostly having to do with his son David, with whom he has lost touch, and his wife, Maureen. He hasn’t slept in the same room as his wife in years and communication has grown short and sharp. Not only do we experience his unlikely pilgrimage through his own eyes, but also through Maureen’s eyes. We see how she works through the experience of suddenly being alone. And while Harold reviews his life, so does she.

This book is about two older people thinking about their mistakes in life, with their marriage and their children. And I think it’s maybe because of this reason that I didn’t connect with this book very much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book and it does capture you, but I can’t empathize because I’ve ever been married and grown apart from my spouse, and I’ve never had a son that doesn’t want to talk to me. So yea, I can imagine their hardships but I can’t empathize with them. Maybe that’s why I didn’t read this book very quickly.

It’s a very serious book and just like with The Art of Fielding I can imagine people thinking it slow or boring towards the middle. But I don’t agree with them. Joyce has taken no more time than she needed to explain about Harold’s life and then have him think about it. Every sentence was necessary to have the characters develop as they did and to have them arrive at the ending in a believable fashion.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is very well written and you really start to feel for Harold. You feel grateful for the people who help him, and anger towards those who try to deny him his victory.

And then there’s the ending. Man. That came out of left field and hit me in right the head. Some things are revealed in the last chapter that changes the entire context of the story and that’s what makes it such a brilliant book. There are definitely some teary-eyed moment towards the end there.

I rate this book a 4 out of 5 because it’s really good but I didn’t really connect. I do recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about people living their life. Just one foot in front of the other.

My Favourite Quotes: 

“Harold glanced in at people’s windows, and sometimes they where empty, and sometimes people were staring right back at him and he felt obliged to rush on. Sometimes, though, there was an object that he didn’t expect; a porcelain figure, or a vase, and even a tuba. The tender pieces of themselves that people staked as boundaries against the outside world.” 

“If we don’t go mad once in a while, there’s no hope.” 

“Harold had spent his whole life bowing his head to avoid confrontation, and yet, spilled from his own flesh was someone determined to hold his eye and have it out with him.” 

“He stood at the window, staring at the black scope of sky, and thought of his father glaring at the front door the day his mother left, as if persistence alone was enough to make it swing open and reveal her. He had set a chair there and two bottles. Hours he seemed to sit.” 

“It was hard to understand a little and then walk away.” 

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Author: EMK

Just blogging away in my free time while I try to make something of my life

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”

  1. Sound like something I’d enjoy. What do you think is the chances I’ll find it over here, seeing as I still haven’t been able to track down anything by John Green or Neil Gaiman?

      1. Unfortunately that would imply emigrating 😉

        I can’t find bookshops that carry them, I can order them online, but then I have to waste book money on postage and that just seems wrong.

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