Monday, February 9, 2015

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

A Different Map.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
This is a very charming book. Rachel Joyce starts her novel with Harold Fry figuring out how best to reply to Ms. Queenie’s letter.  When finally he was done scratching a draft after another, he found himself walking past postbox after postbox, undecided whether sending a letter is enough to make amends with a long lost friend. It wasn't until Harold had a sincere conversation with a young store clerk did he decided what to do best.

“I am on my way,” he writes. “All you have to do is wait. Because I am going to save you, you see. I will keep walking and you must keep living.”

When we first met Harold, he is leading a monotonous retirement with his wife Maureen. They hardly talk and tried to stay out of each other’s way in the same house for many years. When Maureen received the call from Harold, enthusiastically informing her of his decision to walk from Kingsbridge to Berwick Upon Tweed, she was more than astonished; angry at first, but eventually perturb.

“In walking, he unleashed the past that he had spent twenty years seeking to avoid, and now it chattered and played through his head with a wild energy that was its own.”

There is a certain amount of foolishness to Harold’s pilgrimage -having no change of clothes, enough cash to go on with, no mobile phone for easy access, and not wearing the proper shoes for the journey.  But as Harold trudges along, we discover more about his past. Being mostly alone with his thoughts, Harold was forced to dwell back in his memories: by his parents’ abandonment, the origin of his wife’s disdain, and his forlorn relationship with his son David.  Parallel to his emotional journey, Maureen confronts the reality of their present life. How her disappointments overshadowed the love she always has for her husband. She battled with the dilemma between wanting Harold back and urging him to finish his cause, eventually.

“You got up, and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don't even know you can get there isn't a small miracle; then I don't know what is.”

It is the foolishness and impracticality of Harold’s pilgrimage that is worthy of applause because it’s their glaring truth that made him cling all the more to hope and learn to make do with things and situations. He walked miles and months, sometimes even in circles; nevertheless, exceeding any expectations we have for a dejected 65-year old. The triumph or collapse of this said pilgrimage cannot and will not credit, nor undermine the change and potential Harold acquired through the journey.

“But maybe it's what the world needs. A little less sense, and a little more faith.”

The likelihood of Ms. Queenie’s survival truly connected with Harold’s completion of his walk was questioned once or twice in the story. But Ms. Joyce subtly emphasized that the miracle doesn't lie on Ms. Queenie’s survival, but on a life re-examined and love rekindled.

THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY is an uplifting story. It is delightful with its foolishness and heartwarming in its sincerity.

Book details:
Title:  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Author:  Rachel Joyce
Publication: Doubleday, 2012
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating:  ★★★★★


  1. I have a copy of this from Book Sale. So, is it like Forrest Gump, when he suddenly decided to run across states?

    1. As much as I love Forrest's spontaneous choices, I have to say that Harold's decision is far different. Their shared commonality was how both their journey was sensationalized more than their real intentions.
      Hope you read it soon! :)