Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is one of those books that I have read about
or heard about for the last two years, but just never picked it up to read.  Huge mistake.  I guess that I never knew anyone who had read it.  Well, I am here to recommend that you pick it up and read it.  I found it to be an amazing book.

This debut novel is the story of Harold Fry, a meek, mild-mannered retired Englishman who received a letter one day from a woman, Queenie, who had been a co-worker twenty years ago.  Queenie wrote that she was in hospice and wanted to write and say goodbye.  Harold wrote a note back to her and set off to post it.  However, Harold wasn't quite able to post it and began walking to the next mailbox, then the next, and the next, until he decided that he would walk the six hundred miles to see Queenie, rather than send her a note. His walking became rather superstitious in that he felt that Queenie wouldn't die as long as he was walking to her.

Meanwhile, Harold needed to let his wife, Maureen, know that he had taken on this long journey.  Harold and Maureen's marriage had become desolate years ago and much of the book is about their journey through the past and to each other.

While on his journey, Harold met or came across an odd assortment of people.  As word spread of his journey, people began to join Harold on the pilgrimage.  Being a quiet loner of a man, that was difficult for Harold at times.  And also rewarding.

"Harold walked with these strangers and listened.  He judged no one, although as the days wore on, and time and places began to melt, he couldn't remember if the tax inspector wore no shoes or had a parrot on his shoulder.  It no longer mattered.  He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too.  The world was made up on people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.  Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.  
He walked so surely it was as if all his life he had been waiting to get up from his chair."
I loved the writing and the kind of human spirituality of the book. It's a beautiful book, with many characters who come and go and some wonderfully written family dynamics as both Harold and Maureen struggle with their memories and thoughts.

As I previously wrote, this book was Ms. Joyce's debut novel.  It was longlisted for the2012 Man Booker Prize...what an honor that would be! She does have a new book out now called Perfect.  I can't wait to read it and see if it lives up to her first.



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