The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Published: 2012 by Random House
Source: Received from publisher for review
Harold Fry is a man who doesn’t garner much notice. He is retired and lives a quiet, uneventful life, yet still manages to get in the way of the obsessive cleaning rituals of his wife, Maureen.
Until one day when Harold receives a letter from a former co-worker, Queenie Hennessy, someone whom he hasn’t heard from in over 20 years. Queenie is writing from a hospice to let Harold know she is dying from cancer and she that she wants to say good-bye. This news greatly affects Harold; he instantly regrets not trying to contact her sooner, and he writes her a note in response. Putting on his windbreaker, he tells Maureen he is just stepping out to the postbox at the end of the road, but when he gets there he decides to walk to the next postbox, then the next one; and before long he decides that he is going to walk to visit Queenie in person – a journey of several hundred miles. He changes his note to tell Queenie that he is on his way, and believes that while he is walking to see her she will not die.
Along the way Harold encounters many people who support his cause and eventually his walk takes on a life of its own, with media coverage and corporate sponsorships. But even as this happens, Harold is determined to get to Queenie on his own terms, because he has to make something right with her before she dies.
Between the narrative of Harold’s walk and flashbacks to his work life with Queenie and his family life both as a child and with Maureen and their son David, the amazing ordinariness (I know that’s probably not a word) of Harold is displayed and that makes his truly epic journey stand out so much more. When a “very famous actor” offered him the use of his car and driver to reach Queenie faster, Harold thought to himself that he needed to let him know that “you could be ordinary and attempt something extraordinary, without being able to explain it in a logical way.” And that’s where I suppose the “pilgrimage” part of the title comes in — Harold is in a sense making a sacrifice for a greater good in his own mind.
I absolutely loved this novel and couldn’t help but fall in love with Harold Fry. This was a man who did not have the best life but did the best with what he had. He made me laugh and made me cry, and he proved that grand gestures can come out of the simplest things.
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The publisher has graciously offered a copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry to giveaway to one lucky reader in the US or Canada (sorry rest of the world). If you are interested, please let me know in the comments and I’ll draw a winner at random on Tuesday August 14.