Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

by Rachel Joyce, Random House, July 2012                                
...Harold Fry is a very endearing character
A few spoilers.        The lead character in this story, Harold Fry is a recently retired brewery employee who is leading a life of “quiet desperation” in a seaside town in southern England.  His wife Maureen is annoyed by almost everything that Harold does.  One morning he receives a letter from an old friend, Queenie Hennessey, who years earlier had done him a great favor.  Queenie is dying of cancer in a town in the north of England.  Harold pens a letter to Queenie, walks to the post box to mail it and unable to place it in the mail with little thought and no planning begins to walk north.  So his adventure begins.  Through interactions with people he meets along the way he becomes convinced that as long as he walks Queenie will live.  Woefully unprepared for the 600 mile journey he plods along, dealing with injuries, weather, unsuitable shoes, and money troubles along the way.  In a haphazard method throughout the journey Harold examines his life relationships - with his parents, his son and his wife Maureen.  These examinations allow him to come to peace with each of these relationships, accepting them for what they are and giving up his despair over chances lost.  As Harold’s journey proceeds, Maureen begins to miss Harold and in a believable way seems to fall back in love with him.  In the end both Harold and Maureen though exhausted by the ordeal are able to renew their relationship and reenergize their spirit. This is a difficult book to characterize.  In this debut novel the prose is excellent.  Some of the vignettes of Harold’s interactions with strangers met along the way are vivid in the telling and oh so British.   It is a very introspective look at one man’s life is an oddly personal way.  Harold Fry is a very endearing character. His life trials while not unique are told in a manner that make them very real and often heartbreaking.  The final chapters of the book reveal the plot elements that have driven the story and bring together nicely the sadness, despair and redemption that is Harold’s life.  The story is life affirming.  I defy you not to root for this man to overcome his depression and succeed in his physical and spiritual journey. I think you’ll remember him long after you finish this book.


Zibilee said...

This does sound like the kind of book that would leave you rooting for the main character as you watch him go through all his trials. Excellent and captivating review today. I need to read this one and explore Harold Fry's journey too!

Mary G said...

I also had a chance to review this book and agree very much with the review. An excellent first novel.