‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ – Rachel Joyce
When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking to save someone else’s life.
A sweet and heart-warming novel, readers follow Harold Fry as he takes it upon himself to walk 800-odd miles in a bid to save a friend from his past from dying from cancer. Exploring his strained marriage to his wife, Maureen, we meet many people Harold comes across along the way, all showing that despite a perfect exterior, everyone can have hidden troubles of their own.
I found this book initially quite difficult to get into as all the story does is describe Harold walking and the people he interacts with. I think I was expecting something a bit more dynamic, but as the story develops and news of Harold’s walk spreads, the narrow-mindedness of some of the people that join Harold made me want to push all the tag-alongs away so the story would be solely focused once more on his musings.
What I found most interesting was the flashbacks about Harold and Maureen, from when they first met, Harold working and the switch to how Maureen was managing with Harold gone. This provided a whole new perspective and I loved watching Maureen change as Harold’s walk progresses. From the start there is always the hanging question of whether Maureen and Harold can overcome this pilgrimage and live a happy life together and this kept me guessing right towards the end. Indeed, the relationship described between Harold and David, his son, is also full of deceptions and it really tugged at the heart-strings! It is clear that Harold has been through a lot in his lifetime and this makes you understand even more why he feels it necessary to walk to see his friend.
The plot twist towards the end of the novel was completely unexpected and I found it made the final chapters even more poignant. I think it was by this point that I truly appreciated the story for what it was: an exploration into people and their different walks of life, rather than a story dominated by revealing flash-backs and action. Desperate for a happy ending after all that Harold has been through, I sought reassurance that his pilgrimage had not been in vain.
This is an interesting story and one that I enjoyed reading. It is not a massively long book but I found it took me a while to get through because it is more of a drama rather than action. The way Harold and Maureen evolve over the story is fascinating to watch and I think Joyce pulled off a convincing tale of a man and woman both seeking answers and change to their lives.