Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is a beautiful story of Harold Fry and his mission to save Queenie Hennessy.

Harold, who’s recently retired spends many days with no purpose, no fulfillment. The lines of communication are broken between he and his wife Maureen, it’s as if they’ve run out of things to talk about. Then one day Harold receives a letter in the mail from an old friend/co-worker named Queenie Hennessy saying she’s been diagnosed with cancer. He hasn’t spoke to Queenie since the day she got fired from the brewery where both she and Harold were once employed. He writes her a note of his condolences and walks to the post office to mail it AND that’s when everything changes.

On his walk to the mailbox, he goes into a garage for some refreshments and meets a young girl who explains that when her Aunt was diagnosed with cancer, she believed she would get better and she did. The nameless cashier explains,

You have to believe. That’s what I think. It’s not about medicine and all that stuff. You have to believe a person can get better. There is so much in the human mind we don’t understand. But, you see, if you have faith, you can do anything.

Those words inevitability change Harold’s mind set. He scratches his original note to Queenie and writes her a new note that says:

I am on my way.
All you have to do is wait
Because I am going to save
you, you see. I will keep
walking and you
must keep living.

From there on out, Harold, age 65 decides that walking to Queenie Hennessy will keep her alive and in good spirits. It’s not a religious walk, it is not because he’s in love with her, it’s because he needs to believe in something bigger than himself.

Harold and his wife Maureen have lived a very quiet existence, he no longer sees his only child David and each day is the same day as the last. Doing something as extravagant as walking from Kingsbridge to Berwick on foot catches everyone off guard, especially his wife Maureen who doesn’t understand it at all.

To demonstrate how far Harold has to walk, Rachel Joyce included the map below in the book:

As many of you know, walks that don’t include music, cell phones or any other distraction gives you lots of time to think… Harold reflects on the past, the present and the future. He’s forced to deal with thoughts he’s buried so deep that it becomes overwhelming at times. However, he’s not the only forced to face his emotions, his wife Maureen is left alone in an empty house with only her thoughts. Even though she and Harold hardly spoke when he was at home, his presence was a security of sorts and now that he’s not there, she begins to reflect on what’s important while her husband is on a pilgrimage to a “save” another woman.

Rachel Joyce’s touching novel is about learning who you really are, even if your self discovery comes at a later age in life. It’s a novel about love, strength and endurance. I’d highly recommend this book to each and everyone of you!

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