The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
UPDATE: Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize!
Regret is powerful. And everyone has had their regrets, whether big or small.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is about facing your past and moving forward one step at a time by letting go of those regrets. It’s about being strong for a friend who has no one else to turn to.
Harold Fry is a fascinating character. He’s an amusingly shy man who likes to blend into the background. And when the spotlight hits him, it almost breaks his determination.
As he’s arguing with his wife one morning, a letter arrives from a former coworker, Queenie Hennesy. Queenie has cancer and the doctors have told her there is nothing to be done.
Harold is crushed. Twenty years earlier, around the same time his marriage started to fall apart, Queenie did something for Harold and she disappeared before he could thank her.
He decides to write back. But what do you say in a letter when someone is dying of cancer? Harold writes down two sentences: “Thank you for your letter. I am very sorry.” As he approaches his mailbox down the street, he feels like he hasn’t done enough. So he walks to the next mailbox, and then the next one. He keeps walking until he decides that the least he could do is walk all the way to Queenie, who is more than 600 miles away.
And just like that, Harold Fry’s journey across England begins. He tells Queenie to hold on until he arrives.
Along the way, Harold meets a wide range of people with their own moving and surprising stories to tell.
He finally begins to notice the beauty of the world around him. He starts to notice the green trees that are no longer winter gray. He starts to taste rather than just ingest food.
And Harold finally takes the time to think back to all the regrets and low points of his life. He remembers his broken childhood, his failure as a father, his failure as a husband.
“In walking, he freed the past that he had spent years seeking to avoid.”
The question then becomes whether Harold is strong enough to complete the journey and to free his conscience. And whether he can save an old friend.
You’ll be rooting for Harold as you shake your head and smile at this quest of his.
Rachel Joyce is an author to keep an eye on. She knows how to write a beautiful book!
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