The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Format: Hardcover, 326 pages
Publisher: Bond Street Books, Doubleday Canada, imprint of Random House of Canada
Pub Date: July 24, 2012
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a clearly written book of effortless prose about a man who spontaneously decides to walk cross-country from Kingsbridge, England, his home, to the northern town of Berwick-upon-Tweed at the border of Scotland, after receiving a devastating letter from his friend, Queenie Hennessy, who is bedridden at a hospice having been diagnosed with Cancer.
Harold’s original plan to walk to the corner post office to mail is penned response slowly unravels as he forgoes mailing his letter, passes the post, and then another, only to walk with what first begins as an unexpected and new curiosity of his surroundings to a full-fledged emotional and spiritual “pilgrimage.”
The writing is phenomenal in its simplicity and clarity, which eases the reader into the depth and revelation of the story as inevitably and continuously as Harold Fry’s personal walk.
The narrative is filled with thoughtful and philosophical optimism about the beauty and grandeur found in nature and its self-sufficiency, reward, and lack of complication when one discovers how to harness it, appreciate it, and cooperate within its means.
But, this book is more than a topographical nature walk. It not only becomes a lifeline of hope to a dying character found in Queenie Hennessy, but a lifeline of recollection and reconciliation for the timid and reclusive character if Harold Fry as he must confront the emotional demons and scars of his past.
While a number of other characters are sprinkled throughout the book—those he meets in passing during his walk—they form a diverse collective that creates help or obstacle on his quest to reach Berwick-upon-Tweed.
But, it is the secondary characters that root him to his cause:
Maureen, his nagging, anal-retentive wife who finds repressive control and coping in incessant keep and cleaning of her household amidst an anesthetized and almost dead marriage.
Rex, his widowed, yet friendly, and concerned neighbour.
And the Girl from the Garage, who provides Harold with his first taste of a microwaved burger and the key advice that inspires him to recklessly take risk to action, one that is the catalyst that propels him on what becomes a physical and more importantly, an emotional six-hundred-mile-walk towards Berwick-upon-Tweed and a deeply personal, internal journey.
But, like every quest, each step is not necessarily optimistic, but a deep and dark unconsoling delve into private fears and unrelenting personal challenges that Harold Fry must fight to overcome or concede to in failure.
Harold Fry’s openness and acceptance of others at risk to his own self-sacrifice is both his challenge and his gift, one that will not only inspire the nation of fictional characters he meets until he is convoluted into a sensationalized hero—but also inspire the readers of the book to reflect upon the importance of acceptance, change, and the willingness to try.
A special thank you to Doubleday Canada and Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.
How far would you be willing to travel by foot to reach a personal goal?
Do you think the character Harold Fry is a fool or a hero for walking a six-hundred-mile pilgrimage?
Have you ever gone on a pilgrimage of your own, religious or non-religious?