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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry

Harold Fry was a tall man who moved through life with a stoop, as if expecting a low beam, or a screwed-up paper missile, to appear out of nowhere.

This is the story of recently-retired Harold Fry, who sets out one morning to post a letter to a dying friend called Queenie. Quite unexpectedly, in a moment of impulse, Fry finds himself at the start of a journey which will lead him to walk hundreds of miles from home. He met many people on the way (some interesting, some not) and reflecting on tragic events from his past which with regrets and new found hope to finish the journey to Berwick-upon-tweed.

He told Queenie she has to live, even with cancer, she has to wait till Harold walk all the way to Berwick to see her.

He had always been too English; by which he supposed he meant that he was ordinary. He lacked colour. Other people knew interesting, stories, or had things to ask. He didn’t like to ask, because he didn’t like to offend. He wore a tie every day but sometimes he wondered if he was hanging on to an order or a set of rules that had never really existed.

It is quite a task trying to fill up Harold’s journey with interesting thing he will encounter. I have to be honest I was bored in some parts and moved in some. The significance of his journey however lies in what it is unsaid.

Harold Fry Journey

Harold Fry Journey

You see, Harold hasn’t been a good father to his son David. Being the way he is, he doesn’t know how to express love nor give his son a hug. So David has grown into a young lad and eventually a Cambridge understudy resentful of his father. Harold lives his life at bare minimum, toeing the line and has not done anything of significance or stick his neck out for a cause. So this first step forward on this outrageous journey was a personal vow to make things right. Due to the excessive walking, his feet were all blistered, pain and sore. There were moments when he wants to give up. There were times when Harold wonder why he is doing this. But always there is change of event that spurs Harold to continue the journey. So in 87 days he has walked 627 miles.

This book is not all about Harold, as his wife Maureen shares some his regrets in their marriage and for the past tragedy that was revealed in a sudden twist at the end, which I thought was rather clever.

I also thought there were a few passages in between Harold’s walking that I quite like:

And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.

It no longer mattered. He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had done so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique, and that this was the dilemma of being human.

It was not a life, if lived without love.

I also love those little illustration arts at the opening of every chapter. The little hedgehogs, birds etc. that were drawn in the same vein and style as this pair of shoes:

harold fry shoes

The book is very readable, very charming, and perhaps incites readers to think about their lives for a moment like what Harold does. I am not sure why the idea of Harold having a “condition” (not saying what it is as it would spoil the plot) is introduced into the storyline because it does invalidate somehow the significance of Harold taking up this journey. I want to believe that Harold really doing this for his friend and not because he lost his head!

Beautiful illustration art, some thought provoking passages, slow burning plot and a lot of reminiscence. Great for some, but not enough to make me love it.

Rating: three and a half stars

I thank the publisher for sending me the review copy (ARC) via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest opinion.

Other views:

Claire@Word by Word: It may be stating the obvious, but this is a very English novel. …. Overall, a most enjoyable read.

Kindle ebook. Publisher: Black Swan 2012 Printed Length: 368 pages; Setting: United Kingdom. Source: Sent by the publisher. Finished reading on: 30 March 2013, Saturday.

About the writer:

Rachel Joyce-The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold FryRachel Joyce is a British author. She has written plays for BBC Radio Four, and jointly won the 2007 Tinniswood Award for her To Be a Pilgrim.

Her 2012 novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, was on the longlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. In December 2012, she was awarded the “New Writer of the Year” award by the National Book Awards for the novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Rachel lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and four children.

In In Writing Harold Fry:

“The book has my heart in it. I tried to write a story that wouldn’t quite fit the rules. So that the reader might think they knew where they were, and then discover they weren’t there after all. I wanted to make the implausible, plausible after all.”

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

  1. I didn’t love this one either. As you say, there were a few great passages, but it was all a bit slow and overly sentimental for me.

    Posted by farmlanebooks | April 12, 2013, 1:31 pm
  2. My copy did not have any illustrations but I loved it. Thought it was charming and it surprised me because I didn’t expect to love it going in.

    Posted by Ti | April 12, 2013, 2:27 pm
    • Ti,
      I am glad you love it. I was quite surprised with my review copy on my Kindle because it has pictures in it. I really love those cute and adorable illustration of the opening chapter.

      Posted by JoV | April 12, 2013, 7:12 pm
  3. Love your review and thank you for linking to mine. I think i enjoyed this all the more for it pulling me through a horrible flu, the pace of Harold was about all I could manage, definitely recommend it if one is laid up!

    Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | April 12, 2013, 7:11 pm
    • Claire,
      LOL… You always write beautiful reviews Claire. You see the beauty of Harold’s struggle while I am just being impatient, rushing for time! It does matter at what state we are reading a book! :)

      Posted by JoV | April 12, 2013, 7:20 pm
      • :) I think timing is everything and I did put this book off for a long time, not excited to read it, mildly curious. Often when the expectations are lowered the performance is all the greater for it.

        I know that impatient feeling too, it’s difficult to know if its all about the book or partly about the mood. There are some that just take 2 weeks to read no matter how hard I try!

        Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | April 12, 2013, 8:01 pm
        • Claire,
          I suppose we should always get into a book without any expectation (that’s why I do not read or skim read book reviews of books I intend to read) and also stop setting targets on how many books I should read per year, so that I don’t rush through them (I am still working on this! :)

          Posted by JoV | April 13, 2013, 9:04 am
          • I agree, its hard to undo having read an opinion of a book or seeing a bookcover everywhere, I too wait until after I have written my own thoughts to read too many reviews (afraid I won’t have an original thought otherwise).

            I have only one manageable goal for fun, to read a book a week and I will never increase it, though I may over achieve it. It means I read without pressure and for all the right reasons. Books must remain the one area in life where there are few demands and mostly all pleasure. :)

            Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | April 13, 2013, 9:19 am
          • Claire,
            One a week sounds reasonable! I think I should do the same. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Claire.

            Posted by JoV | April 13, 2013, 9:17 pm
  4. I too agree with your assessment. I think it was how ‘pilgrim-y’ the journey got later in the journey that bugged me. Though given the title, I guess I should have expected that!

    Posted by biblioglobal | April 12, 2013, 7:54 pm
    • Biblioglobal,
      I interpreted “Unlikely” to mean that he took the mission in impulse and in a unlikely situation but you are right, it doesn’t seem pilgrimy after knowing Harold’s condition. :)

      Posted by JoV | April 13, 2013, 9:02 am
  5. I like the excerpts you’ve posted, but the book as a whole doesn’t sound like my thing — I am not a girl for unpredictable trips. :p I like everyone to know where they’re going and a rough outline of what’s going to happen along the way.

    Posted by Jenny | April 13, 2013, 1:17 am
  6. I loved this more than you. I thought it was a really charming read.

    Posted by Leeswammes | April 13, 2013, 2:12 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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