Sharon Bolton's Reviews > The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
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Apr 17, 2012

it was amazing
Read from April 17 to 21, 2012

“I’m setting off right now. As long as I walk, she must live. Please tell her this time I won’t let her down.”

Harold Fry, a recently retired man in his mid sixties, stuck in a cold and loveless marriage, receives a postcard one morning from a woman he hasn’t seen for decades. She is dying and writes simply to say goodbye. Harold composes a short, trite reply and goes off to post it, fully expecting to be back in his dry, humourless house within ten minutes.

He isn’t. Somewhere between home and the third or fourth postbox he passes, he decides he’s going to walk from his house in Devon to his friend’s hospice in Berwick on Tweed, a distance of around 500 miles. He phones a message to Queenie, telling her to hang on, to wait for him, that he will save her. He becomes a pilgrim.

I loved this book. There were moments in the early chapters when it reminded me of one of my favourite books ever, Elizabeth von Armin’s The Enchanted April, because every time I picked it up, it lifted my spirits. There was something so cheering, life-affirming and wonderfully eccentric about this man in late middle-age, setting off on a modern pilgrimage, meeting and touching so many lives along the way. In common with most crime writers, I spend much of my life embroiled (albeit vicariously) in life’s seedy underbelly and I found it tremendously reassuring to read of people who are funny, charming, quirky but, basically, entirely good.

But The Unlikely Pilgrimage is no sugar-coated confection of a book with a predictably happy ending. It never parts company with reality and there are times when it takes a decidedly dark turn. I had a moment of sheer dismay and grief towards the end, but Harold moved on and so did I.

I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if Harold Fry doesn’t inspire quite a few imitators to get out their waterproofs and set off. I might even do it myself one day, but probably not in deck shoes!
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