Thursday, April 21, 2016

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn't seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Leaving Maureen to her chores, Harold heads to the corner mailbox, intending a quick walk to post his reply. Instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce's remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest through the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit of youth and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood come rushing back to him-allowing him to reconcile his losses and regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

A novel of unsentimental charm, humour, 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.

Published July 24, 2012
Doubleday Canada
“If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, it stands to reason that I'm going to get there. I've begun to think we sit far more than we're supposed to." He smiled. "Why else would we have feet?”
I find sometimes when reading books with rave reviews my expectation level is elevated and in the end wondering to myself  'what did I miss?' because it didn't hit that mark for me.  With The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry I was not disappointed, only mad at myself for waiting so long to read this one.

At first I thought this must be a comical story because it couldn't possible be anything but.  As the layers were stripped away this was a journey of remembering, of self discovery and forgiveness. With wife Maureen left at home she deals with this time alone to open up and be honest with herself.

I loved this book.  The author wove a heartwarming story, with narrative jumping between Harold and Maureen it was sad at times but also full of hope and healing.

Thank you to DoubleDayCanada (via Netgalley) for a complimentary copy for an honest review.

RACHEL JOYCE is an award-winning writer of more than twenty original plays for BBC Radio 4. She started writing after a twenty-year acting career, performing leading roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Joyce lives on a farm in Gloucestershire, England, with her husband and four children, and is at work on her second novel.

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