Review & Giveaway: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: July 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover | 336 pages
Rating: 4 of 5
Harold Fry has recently retired from the brewery where he has worked for decades. He resides in a modest home in the English Village of Kingsbridge with his wife Maureen where the two live almost as strangers, barely speaking to one another. Maureen blames Harold for the problems with their son, David, and says he was the reason David left.
One morning Harold receives a letter from a former co-worker, Queenie, that he hasn’t heard from in 20 years. She is dying, is residing in hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, and is writing to say goodbye. Harold writes a reply and walks to the mailbox to send the letter. On his way he stopped at a petrol station for some refreshment and began a conversation with the girl at the checkout counter. He told her about his letter and she told him about her aunt that had cancer and that he had to have faith that Queenie would survive as her aunt had. At that point Harold was inspired to deliver the letter himself, by walking to her; for as long as he walked, Queenie would live.
In a most unlikely journey, Harold begins walking the 500 miles to deliver the letter in person. He isn’t wearing proper shoes or clothing and he doesn’t even have his mobile phone with him, but he continues anyway. As he walks he thinks back on his life, his childhood, his marriage, his son, the mistakes he’s made, the pain he has caused others, and how he failed Queenie.
We are introduced to an odd array of people that Harold meets along the way, each with their own story to tell and many eager to help him. Harold believes that “in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others”, so he listens to them and walks with them. But is Harold walking toward Queenie or away from his own life and his unhappiness?
Meanwhile Maureen remains at home. She too reflects on the past and her mistakes and begins her own journey of acceptance of Harold, their life together and events that have transpired in their past. She begins to change, to evolve and travel her own path of personal growth.
The story is told from alternating points of view from Harold and Maureen. As they each reflect back on their lives, the years are peeled away slowly revealing their story to the reader. This is a complex but at the same time simple story about relationships, beliefs, faith, healing and the realization that we cannot change the past but we can create a better future.
Rachel Joyce has crafted a beautiful story with well developed, sympathetic characters. Although at times I did get a little frustrated with Harold and his insistence on seeing only the good in everyone, even when it compromised his own goals, I couldn’t help but like him.
About the Author
Rachel Joyce is an award-winning writer of more than twenty plays for BBC Radio 4. She started writing after a 20 year acting career performing lead roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and also winning multiple awards. Rachel Joyce lives in Gloucestershire on a farm with her family and is at work on her second novel.
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The publisher has generously offered a copy to give away to one of my readers with a US mailing address (no PO boxes). If you would like to be entered in the drawing let me know in the comments. One random winner will be selected. Enter through Monday, July 30th. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond.
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Source: Review copy.
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