When I first heard about Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I was curious about it and even checked it out. But I let it go because I thought it might be too sad. With so many things to do, I let a few months pass. Something wouldn’t let me let go; I’m not sure what led me back to it.
So I tried again, downloading it to my NOOK. One evening, I decided to give it a try, and I couldn’t put it down! Even if I had something else going on that day, the first spare minute I had, I went back to the book until I finished.
The story begins simply enough. Kind and unassuming Harold Fry, 65, of Kingsbridge, England, has been retired from his brewery job for six months. Home life, with his wife Maureen, is very quiet. Too quiet.
One spring morning, Harold receives an unexpected letter from an old friend–his former co-worker, Queenie Hennessy, whom he hasn’t seen in more than twenty years. She has cancer, and is writing to say good-bye.
This affects Harold very deeply, and he is moved to tears.. A long time ago,Queenie helped him out, and he never took the time to thank her. Never good with words, he writes a reply, putting his last name in parentheses just in case people have forgotten who he is. He goes for a walk to post the letter. And keeps right on walking. “Queenie must live,” Harold says. “I won’t let her down.” Before he reaches a mailbox that is farther away, he opens the letter to add a postscript: “Please wait for me.”
In Harold’s case, he’s walking from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed, where Queenie’s hospice is. A map is included in the front of the book. Basically, he is walking the entire length of England.
As the story opens, readers see that Harold and Maureen are estranged, and there is some rift between them and their son, David. As the story develops, traders discover more details.
As Harold embarks upon his totally spur-of-the-moment journey, he learns, observes, cheers for, and cares about the quirky people he meets along the way–who may or may not have the greatest of motives. He is looking for faith, hope, and forgiveness. Along the way, he realizes that other people carry unseen burdens too. He also learns that the greatest gift he can give to people is to listen. Ultimately, he sees that it’s better to join life than to shrink away from it. The road gives him a lot of time for reflection. The other characters–and readers–also cheer for him.
Walking, he sees so many things that he forgot about or missed entirely while in a car. I have found the same thing.
Soon I will read the prequel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and Joyce’s additional novel, Perfect. Have a look at the U.S. and British versions of Rachel Joyce’s websites, and enjoy!