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