Rachel Joyce: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2013)

Do you remember literary figures, such as Forrest Gump, Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise or the hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared? Add to this company a male protagonist called Harold Fry and these characters form a company, who are on the road, and whose journey makes the story of looking for oneself and one’s identity. What makes the story interesting is not the destination in itself, but what happens on the journey.

By making comparisons, I am not saying that Harold Fry would make the most memorable impact on the reader as a literal person.  (Or will his image become more alive, if/when the story were made into a movie? We don’t know he will ever end up into a film character, but our book club was making a guess that there could be potential for that…) But he is sympathetic in his own, charming and solemn way.

Harold Fry is an average pensioner, residing an average house and living his mediocre life with his ordinary wife. Something changes, when he gets a letter from an old friend Queenie Hennessy who writes a letter of goodbye to him. She is about to die in cancer. This sets out a flow of events that puts the life of Harold and his wife in a new gear. Instead of posting the return letter to the nearest post box, he decides to walk a bit further…and actually he decides to deliver the letter for Queenie personally. However, the distance is a bit too much, from the Southern part of England to Scotland.

And, of course, along the story we come to learn that there are deeper things in Harold’s life than meets the eye.  The walk will become his personal pilgrimage. The slogan for his life could be the advice he gets from a young girl: “You have to believe”. This small idea becomes like an obsession to Harold. Yet, at the same time, the problems of his past are beginning to be resolved. The book tackles with the serious issues, but the style of writing makes issues lighter. This style works for a while, but along the story it starts to lose its’ grip as the amount of absurdities just seem to increase. This happens in Forrest Gump as well, but unfortunately this story is not so epic. Some readers might find this novel both funny and very moving.

If you got attached to the story, you might also want to take a look at another book by Rachel Joyce, “The Love song of miss Queenie Hennessy”. This book is a parallel story to that of Harold Fry, but now the events are told from Queenie Hennessys’s point of view.

-Marika

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Cover: LibraryThing

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