Wednesday, June 26, 2013
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Published: July 2012 by Random House Publishing
Source: I borrowed a copy from a member of the Omaha Bookworms
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. Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. Harold 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 Hennessey will live.
Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit 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 also reconcile the losses and the 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.
Oh Harold, how you toyed with my feelings. I wanted to applaud you for trying to help another person; I wanted to hug you when you lost faith; I wanted to shake you time and time again for refusing to do the things that would make your journey easier and for not having the courage to tell others "no" when it needed to be said. An author is always bound to win me over if he or she can make me care about the characters in the book and I certainly grew to care about Harold and Maureen. As frustrated as I sometimes got with Harold, I was quite sure I would never think of Maureen as anything other than a cold, cruel, sad woman. I was happy to see that Joyce allowed Harold's pilgrimage to allow both Harold and Maureen to reflect and grow.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a quiet little book that is as much about the people Harold meets with along his journey as it is about Harold and Maureen. Every person has a story to tell; every interaction has an influence. Through Harold and his journey, Joyce allows us to look for answers to life's questions: is it possible to forgive, can we start life over, is it possible to find peace? This is a charming, thoughtful book. I wish I had purchase it so I could pass it along. Everyone who has reached middle-age should read it and allow themselves to think about how to live their lives moving forward.