Lynne Spreen's Reviews > The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
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's review
Jul 21, 2016

it was amazing
bookshelves: midlife
Read from September 25 to 27, 2012

I just finished this lovely book, and I'm never going to forget it. To those who say nobody wants to read about "old people", I'd say, read this book. The fact is, as long as you're alive, you should be open to growth and change, right? But how many of us stop growing after middle age? We find a formula that works and we stick with it, missing opportunities to experience joyous awakening. Maybe we start saying things like, "I'm too old to do X any more." And we shut down, close off. We fail to notice the continuing wonder and miracle of life.

In this story, a couple in their 60s have made their peace, of sorts, following a horrific event in middle age. They live together, married in name only, settling for having another person in proximity (to take out the trash. To do the laundry. She snaps at him, he looks away.) The author conveys emotion so skillfully, not overwriting by one syllable.

Then, something happens, and the husband, Harold, begins a journey both mental and actual - he sets off on a walk from the south of Great Britain to a point 500 miles north. I won't tell you if he makes it or what happens, but I will say that the story was so good, I put it in a class with Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. This author, Rachel Joyce, has achieved this miracle: she describes the sweetness and difficulty of life in such a way that you can't separate the two, and are a better person for having realized this fact.

Many thanks to Ms. Joyce for this winner.
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02/22 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan So glad!

Linda Thank you for saying this is more than just about a man's walk. It very much is a book about old people and their passions and fears, and for that I loved it. Thank you for pointing it out for me, because I was struggling to articulate why I enjoyed this little novel in a such a grand, outsized way.

Lynne Spreen Linda, you are welcome. I love reading about people in the second half of life (fiction, mostly) so this was a find!

Beryl I am pleased you liked this book - I loved it - I wonder how many readers gave thought to the emotional journey Harold and his wife took independently whilst apart - the book started with them just getting on out of habit Good to read a review by a like minded person - thanks

Lynne Spreen My pleasure, Beryl. It was one of my fave books of all time. Thanks for commenting.

Beryl Lynne - I can recommend a book called Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernieres (short stories) but The Happy Death of the General and this Beautiful House are 2 lovely stories in a similar genre to "Harold Fry". I also understand "The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window" is similar to "Harold Fry".

Lynne Spreen Thanks for those recommendations, Beryl. I will check them out, especially because I collect midlife fiction titles here:

Beryl Lynne - thank you for link to mid life fiction page - I didn't even realize that was a genre. I wonder if you would like Secret Scripture or The Diary of Esme Lennox (both about woman put into asylums by relatives because they were 'spirited') - not sure they would fit the category but they are 'people' stories. I have also just read Graham Greene's "Travels with my Aunt" about an older man and his aged aunt (google them to see if you would like them) Thanks for corresponding

Lynne Spreen And thank you, Beryl. I'm not sure Midlife Fiction is a proper genre, but I used it to make a point: it should be! I'll check out your other suggestions. Best wishes.

Beryl Lynne - please try Old Filth - it is a fantastic book I am sure you will enjoy it - it's about a Barrister nick named Old Filth (Filth stands for Failed In London Tried HongKong) his wife dies and he befriends an old enemy - he was a child of the Raj and the book keeps going back to his childhood - this book equals Harold Fry

Lynne Spreen Cool! Sounds wonderful, Beryl. Thanks for the suggestion. I will try it.

Janet Lynne, I am a person on the brink of becoming an "old person." My husband recently asked me to join him in retirement which came as quite a shock to me. I also share an interest in reading about adults changing in a positive way as they age. A book that I read a couple of years ago that was a favorite is Keeping Time: A Novel by Stacey McGlynn. As someone living in the second half of my life, I have to say it is an excellent time for pursuing new interest and making changes in my life which were not feasible when I was running at 100 mph.

Lynne Spreen Janet, thanks for the recommendation. I will look into it. I enjoy hearing about midlife works (anything over 40, that illuminates the experience of aging) because I like to post links to them on my Midlife Fiction Facebook page ( So thanks again and best wishes on your upcoming explorations!

Beryl Lynne wrote: "Janet, thanks for the recommendation. I will look into it. I enjoy hearing about midlife works (anything over 40, that illuminates the experience of aging) because I like to post links to them on m..."

Lynne - I have just read Perfection by Rachel Joyce (we both love and communicated about Harold Fry) - I thought Rachel wouldn't be able to follow Harold Fry but it is a wonderful book and one I would recommend

message 15: by Lynne (last edited May 10, 2014 11:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lynne Spreen Beryl, thanks! I will check out Perfection. Best wishes.

Melissa Lynne! You must read the companion book The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy as well!

Lynne Spreen Melissa, I did not know! Going to Amazon ASAP, thank you, thank you!!

Melissa You will LOVE it! I think it just came out this month!

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