Jill's Reviews > The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
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May 31, 2012

really liked it
Read from May 28 to 31, 2012

Harold Fry is an Everyman – a recent retiree living in a small village, dealing with a pervasive sense of overall failure as a father, a husband, and a son. One day he receives a letter from an old friend, a solitary woman named Queenie, revealing that she is in hospice and dying of cancer. He writes her back, goes outdoors to post the letter and impulsively, just keeps on walking. His goal is to walk hundreds of miles in his yacht shoes to Queenie’s side; by doing the seemingly impossible, he hopes to give her the strength to stay alive, at least until he gets there.

Along the way, Harold meets many other damaged and wistful individuals, from a plain woman in a gas station who gives him hope to a female Slovakian doctor who is forced to clean houses to survive. And he learns “the inhumane effort to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday.” As he walks on – as he walks away from himself, or at least, the person he used to be – he gains clarity of what his life was and is meant to be.

“It must be the same all over England,” Harold reflects. “ People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside.”

The theme of a pilgrimage – a journey of walking away from oneself to find oneself – has certainly been tackled before. Anne Tyler’s excellent Ladder of Years is one book that instantly comes to mind. What makes Rachel Joyce’s book unique is the care she takes to establish Harold and his estranged wife, Maureen, as complex characters coping with the twin emotions of suppressed grief and enduring love. We know early on that there have been problems with their son and that it has taken a toll on their marriage.

There are times when the message is too trumpeted; for example, “I admit it’s an awfully long way to Berwick. I admit I am wearing the wrong clothes. And I also admit I have not the training or the physique, for my walk. I can’t explain why I think I can get there, when all the odds are against it. But I do.” A latter connection with a group of people who want to sponge off the publicity Harold begins receiving is the one misstep; they are portrayed too broadly.

Yet still, at its core, this is a journey that doubles as a love story. There’s some uncommonly powerful and beautiful insights and the pilgrimage serves as an affirmation for humankind. “When I tell people what I’m doing, they seem to understand. They look at their own lives and they want me to get there.” We, the book’s readers, also understand. We root for Harold and want him to overcome his impossible odds… because by doing so, he reaffirms our own ability to create turnarounds in our lives.

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Reading Progress

03/11 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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Bonnie Brody I started reading this book tonight and I love the way it starts out. Bonnie


Jill Same here. I'm about 80 pages into it and so far...so good.


Jill Same here. I'm about 80 pages into it and so far...so good.


Emily Crowe I'm still eagerly awaiting my copy of this book from the publisher!


Jill Emily, every advance reader I've spoken to has liked this book. Think you're in for a treat. (Btw, most of my reviews, as you'll find, are 4 or 5 stars because I simply don't finish any of the others. Life's too short for bad books :) )


bookczuk I, too, liked this gentle book. Harold, Maureen et al have stuck with me. But you said it so much better than I did, and used quotes (which I forgot to mark when I read). Thanks for another nice review.


Jill Thanks! I often use quotes as a "marker" to myself so I can go back and remember what I enjoyed so much. It's nice to read a gentle and affirmative book every now and then!


message 8: by Will (new)

Will Byrnes A beautiful review of what sounds like a beautiful tale.


Jill Thanks, Will!


message 10: by Carol (new)

Carol You do have a way with words...


message 11: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill As do you, Carol...:)


Cynthia I just started this book today. You have described it very well. So far, it's a treat!


message 13: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Oh, so glad you're liking it!


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