The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Some books are just meant to be read and then to be bragged about—over and over. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is such a book. I think everyone who reads it will want to talk about it. I am glad I read it and glad I can brag about it.
Harold Fry is a retired salesman who isn’t doing much with his life. He mainly putters around the house, trying to stay out of the way of his wife, Maureen. Then one day, the mail brings a letter from a former co-worker, from 20 years ago. In it, Queenie Hennessy tells Harold that she is dying of cancer and had wanted to say goodbye. Even though, he has not heard from Queenie in all of those two decades, Harold finds himself strangely shaken by the brief letter. He crafts a response and goes outside to post the letter. However, as he reaches the mail box, he finds he is not ready to part with his response just yet and he walks to the next postal box. Then Harold has a chance encounter with a young lady at a garage and becomes convinced that if he just keeps walking and delivers his response to Queenie in person, she will get better. So he keeps walking. It’s amazing really, because Harold lives in Kingsbridge and Queenie is in a hospice at Berwick-Upon-Tweed, more than 500 miles away.
Now Harold is not a trained walker, barely walks from his house most days, is not in great shape as he does nothing to exercise beyond mowing the law; he is in no manner prepared for a long trek in the outdoors. His shoes are not meant to support a man on a long journey. He leaves the house in his everyday clothes and with his debit card. And you’ll gasp to read this but he does not even have his cell phone with him.
As Harold travels from town to town, he sends postcards to Maureen and to Queenie. He keeps telling Queenie that he is on his way to see her and to get better. He only tells his wife the bare facts. Their marriage has not been good for 20 years and at first he does not miss her. Back at home, Maureen does not miss Harold . . . at first. But something starts to happen to both Maureen and Harold as the days go by and both remember passages from their lives, the good and the bad.
Harold gets terrible blisters on his feet and at one point it looks as though he will have to give up walking but the kind-hearted ministrations of one woman helps him begin to heal and he keeps walking.
Of course, it is the people Harold meets along the way that makes the pilgrimage so interesting. As he travels, word begins to get out and the media gets involved. Harold attracts other walkers who want to be seen as pilgrims as well. He is even joined at one point by a stray dog.
I will not go into detail about the people and places Harold sees while on his pilgrimage to see Queenie. Those are best savored in the reading of the book.
Will Harold be able to make the entire distance on foot? Will Queenie get better? Will Harold and Maureen find meaning in their marriage once again? Why have they not heard from their son in 20 years? These are questions that will be answered in the pages of the book.
If you are in the market for something different to read, something of high quality, read Rachel Joyce’s lovely novel.
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