Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

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“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce is an odyssey of an ordinary man written with a disarming simplicity. It is not a story about lost love, but about self-discovery and friendship. With her unusual first novel, Joyce writes herself straight into the hearts of her readers. Her moving and surprising story quickly became a bestseller and won her the UK National Book Award in the category “New Writer of the Year” in 2012.

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In mid-April, Harold Fry, a retired English man, receives a letter. His friend and former work colleague, Queenie Hennessy, is sending her last goodbyes as she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. With the arrival of her note, Harold feels the weight of helplessness resting on his shoulders. But what if he could make a difference? “If you have faith, you can do anything.”, the “garage girl” tells him.

Harold has an epiphany. He is going to save her. It is the beginning of an unplanned journey from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed. 627 miles. With no walking boots or compass, map or change of clothes, he walks and promises himself to keep walking if she kept on living.

Harold Fry escapes the ordinary life and begins his voyage. For the first time, he becomes part of something bigger than “just Harold”. He develops an inner rhythm and finds comfort in the safety of having two feet on the ground, appreciating the little things. Step by step, he goes; because of something.

His travels unleash memories from the past he’d rather keep hidden. He reflects on his loveless marriage, his upbringing, his son David and his former employment. Like a tide, 65 years filled with disappointment, guilt and regret wash over him.

Harold Fry is a good man on a route of self-discovery. He realizes how much he’d missed out on living life with his head bowing down and how much he appreciated the little things, such as the smile of his wife Maureen or the car rides with Queenie.

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He shares his story with the people he meets along the way. Some believe in the success of his mission while others don’t. Either way, Harold keeps going; believing he has a chance of saving his friend.

Rachel Joyce poured her heart into “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. After her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she was inspired to write down her story. –A story where miracles are possible and someone actually comes to save the patient.

I immediately liked Harold Fry and laughed and sobbed with him as we walked through England. I was incredibly moved by this brilliant novel. Impossible to put down.

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Source:
Rachel Joyce: “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” (published 2012)

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