Rate this book:


Description, Categories and Awards


When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else's life. "The odyssey of a simple man, original, subtle and touching." (Claire Tomalin). "From the moment I met Harold Fry, I didn't want to leave him. Impossible to put down." (Erica Wagner, "The Times").


Popular Fiction
This book has been on my to read list for a long time and I finally got to it. This book is a wonderful portrayal of life, hope, learning to live with past mistakes and it's also a wonderful place to meet truly great characters. Harold Fry is a 60 year old man living in retirement in Devon, UK with his wife Maureen. He has led a very small life just trying to earn enough money to support his wife and son David. He had worked for many years at a local brewery. Then 20 years before this book was set, a terrible personal event occurred which changed his life and his marriage forever. One morning he receives a letter from an old colleague that he used to work with. Queenie Hennessey has written to him after 20 years to tell him that she is dying of cancer. This profoundly affects Harold and he sets out to post a letter to Queenie and ends up deciding to walk all the way to Berwick where she is at a hospice. Through telephone calls to the hospice and to through letters and postcards, Harold tells Queenie to wait and not to die because he is walking to her. The trip is more than 600 miles! While he walks he goes over his whole life and faces his demons. He picks up a bunch of people on the way that want to do the pilgrimage with him. It's a motley crew that follows with him. Back at home his wife Maureen faces a number of demons on her own, and she comes to an awareness while her husband is on his unlikely pilgrimage. This is a heartwarming and profound book that even caused me to do some reevaluation of my own. As Harold says to himself, everyone looks normal on the outside, but you never know what is going on inside and what has happened to them in the past to shape them into the people they are now. This was a Globe and Mail best book selection, and I understand why. I highly recommend this book.

Harold receives a letter from a dying friend, and he writes a response to be mailed back. His short trip to the mailbox at the end of the street turns into a soul-searching pilgrimage as he attempts to walk 500 miles from south England, all the way to the north, to hand-deliver the letter. He is seized by the notion that as long as he is walking, his friend will stay alive. As he starts off, his steps vary between being sure-footed to being melancholic, as he mentally picks apart his life as to what he has done or should have done, and how he can or should have made amends. His journey is buoyed by the kindness of strangers -- not unlike each of our own. I rooted for him and cheered him on. I sat with him when he was too tired to continue. I watched his outer physical changes and bore witness to the inner metamorphosis -- so engaging was the storytelling.

I read Harold Fry at a time when my book club was choosing a string of novels about dysfunctional marriages between sociopaths spiraling out of control (psychological thrillers just aren't my thing)... maybe it's the current trend, or maybe we got on a weird roll. But in any case, this book was a breath of fresh air. It's a book about a couple of more or less ordinary people who have faced extraordinary challenges in their marriage, and they haven't emerged intact. And then Harold does something unexpected, without really meaning to. Even though this book is about a strange, yes, unlikely journey on foot, the real journey is the one they both undertake as people, to find their centers again. They are both so human, such genuine characters, that I was reminded that I enjoy books in which I actually like the characters, however flawed they are. And of course I put down the book at the end with the take away that a long period of self-reflection is a good thing once in a while, because life does have a lot going for it. Okay, I'm also a sap. But that doesn't change that I found this a well-written, thoroughly enjoyable story.

Harold Fry is recently retired and not very happy. He and his wife, Maureen, co-habitate, but that is about it. He is a failure as a father, a husband and a son according to himself. One day he receives a letter from an old friend and co-worker who informs him she is dying of cancer in Northern England. He writes back a short note and heads off to mail it. He does not stop walking. He is suddenly walking to see Queenie and is sure she will stay alive until he arrives at the Hospice. Along the way he thinks about his past life, the mistakes he has made, and the opportunities he has missed. He begins to change emotionally and mentally. A reporter meets him and writes an article about his "Pilgrimage" and suddenly Harold is famous. Everyone wants him to visit their town, more people join his walk and become pilgrims as well. Meanwhile, Maureen is involved in a transition of her own. This story accurately depicts what happens to many couples as they age, become empty nesters and retire. The ending was very unexpected and heartwrenching. I will say when I started reading this book, I though it was one of the most depressing stories I had read in a long time, but I am glad I stuck with it.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Poignant...thought provoking... moving....touching...Emotive....

I believe this story will resonate differently to every reader, but one thing I am certain of is that, it will resonate, and...you won't fail to be moved by it in some way.

If emotions could be made tangible through the written word, then Rachel Joyce has perfected that quality with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, because this is a book to be experienced.

There is something deeply and spiritually edifying about the personal experiences encountered by Harold and his wife Maureen in this story, and to an extent all of the people directly and indirectly connected to Harold Fry's pilgrimage, and how they processed those experiences, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Many of us could empathize with some of those feelings and experiences described within, but few could express it in such a sensitive and precise manner as Rachel Joyce has done here.
There are moments in this book that nearly brought me undone, where I had to pause for a bit...and then there were moments of dawning revelation, that gave a deeper understanding, an altogether different perspective, which may have otherwise gone unperceived.
I am so glad that I read it.

This book is a beautiful piece of work and a credit to the author for her capacity to express such honest observations and simple truths about the questions and emotions that people struggle with, in grief.

Most highly recommended.