CoffeeBook Chick's Reviews > The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
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Sep 22, 12

Read from July 01 to September 22, 2012

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Well, it is immensely satisfying when you can read a book and think, "This book is going on my list of Best Books Read in 2012. Hands down."

Harold Fry lives a quiet and uneventful retirement in England, each day ordered and routine. In his 60s and after forty years of marriage with Maureen, the last half resulted in Harold sleeping in a separate bedroom. The only wrinkle each day is whether Harold's done anything to annoy Maureen. Other than that, in the lifetime of their marriage, it's the same as the day before. When Harold receives a startling letter from a person he hasn't spoken to in twenty years, it hits him hard. Queenie Hennessy, a dear friend, is dying from cancer, with not much time and no chances left. The news is devastating and he struggles with finding the right way to respond back to her. He finally puts down a few words and closes up the envelope.

With his tie squarely knotted, and his yachting shoes snugly fit, Harold walks the short distance from his house to the mailbox, but finds that he might need to go a little bit further. With each mailbox he comes across it seems to him more appropriate to mail it at the next one. Before he knows it, he's traveled further and come to a decision: He will walk all the way to Queenie in hospice six hundred miles away and will give her the letter in person and to thank her for her friendship. Harold painfully regrets the years of not speaking with Queenie, and so with this pilgrimage, he is confident she will live. Along the way, he comes across people with their own story of regrets and he realizes that it's really never too late to live a life of purpose. With Maureen waiting at home for his occasional phone call providing status updates, the separation between them grows and each feel the gaping hole of absence.

I fell in love with this book, with Harold, with his pilgrimage, absolutely everything. I had a lump in my throat by page 10 and I consistently blinked back tears with every person Harold meets. Each character, Maureen especially, is not what they initially seem, and before I knew it, I found that all had a deeper tale to tell of understanding, love, loss, pain, and regret.

This was an absolutely beautiful story. Sweet, confused, regretful and saddened Harold Fry had the urge, a revelation to finally do something in life, to feel whole and complete and to feel that he has accomplished something of importance, and I was there cheering the whole time. Harold's journey reveals wounds that have been covered for years, and he's deeply disappointed with his own life and all the people he knows he has let down. Even Maureen, who initially comes across as cold and heartless, goes through her own reawakening that breaks my heart even more and at one point, I was dumbstruck by how much pain has been in both of their lives. It is a powerful story told quietly with subtle moments so compelling that I know I will always remember it. A book about regrets and the hope of redemption no matter when it's realized in life is something that will always tug at my heartstrings and this one even more so. To me, the quieter book draws the pain of regret much more vividly than any other. I eagerly await Rachel Joyce's next novel.

You really, really, REALLY need to read this book.
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Reading Progress

07/01/2012 page 12
4.0% "It is quite possible that I am already in love with Harold."
07/14/2012 page 120
36.0% "I seriously cannot read a page without feeling a lump in my throat from all this sweet grief. Harold's life has been quiet, sad, and difficult and he has been distant with his own family as a result. Regret is a very tough thing to come to terms with. I am loving this story."
07/14/2012 page 160
48.0% "Every so often, there is a tiny glimpse into some secret Harold hasn't yet shared with the reader, and when it's revealed, it packs a punch so deeply that you feel it in your gut. This is such a wonderful, painful story. Harold, I want to tell you to please say something to Maureen! Please, Maureen, stop being so standoffish with Harold! It's killing me, I feel so bad. I can't put this book down."
07/14/2012 page 179
53.0% "This book is making me believe in the innate goodness of people."
07/14/2012 page 231
69.0% "It is the things in life that cannot be undone that fuel regret. This book, I love it."
07/14/2012 page 239
71.0% "I do not like what we, as a society, can do to things that are pure in spirit. Rich and the others can make a good thing ugly. Poor Harold."

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