I bought The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce when it was first published and typically of many of the books I buy, I didn’t get round to reading it because life got in the way. I then completely lost the book so when it was on the list of choices for the U3A reading group to which I belong, I had to select it.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is available for purchase through the links here.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
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.
My Review of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
When Harold goes out to post a letter to Queenie Hennessy it takes him longer than he anticipated!
Now, I have no idea how to write my review of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce because I’m genuinely not sure what I think. Initially I wasn’t convinced I was going to complete the book because it made me feel uncomfortable and yet I simply couldn’t set it aside. I have a feeling that what I have experienced is incredibly skilled and clever writing. I was compelled to finish the book in exactly the same way Harold Fry is unsure about his journey but he feels compelled to walk all the way. I think I have been subtly manipulated by a very astute and clever author.
There is no denying the superb quality of Rachel Joyce’s writing. The contrast between the poetic quality of her descriptions, the gentle humour underpinning deep emotion and the realistic and minimal direct speech, especially between Harold and Maureen, is an absolute triumph. I could hear their conversations as vividly as if I were standing next to them. I felt too as if I were treading the path with Harold.
I found the uncovering of Harold’s memories and his relationship with Maureen and his son David was so good. And I think it is here where my difficulty with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry lies. I wanted Harold and Maureen to be happy together and it didn’t seem as if they would. I wanted them to forgive themselves for their perceived wrongs, but instead they appeared to be tearing themselves apart. I think this again illustrates what a brilliant author Rachel Joyce is. She made me care even when I didn’t want to. I resisted being affected by the story of Harold and his pilgrimage but in the end I didn’t have any say in the matter. Indeed, my heart broke for Harold on occasion and I found both he and Maureen were such believable characters.
I thoroughly appreciated the messages behind the narrative. Harold comes to realise that he doesn’t need material possessions to feel happy. Maureen understands that guilt, fault and blame can be apportioned differently with a different perspective. Love in all its forms is laid bare, from its lack in a person’s life through unrealistic expectations of it to its purest form. All these elements make for compelling reading and yet I couldn’t entirely let myself go as a reader and simply accept the book as an entertaining and enlightening narrative – which it undoubtedly is.
Did I enjoy reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry? I don’t honestly know. Did I find it moving and affecting? Absolutely. Was I impressed by the fabulous quality of the writing? Without doubt. Would I recommend The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry to another reader? Without hesitation. Rachel Joyce has completely flummoxed me with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and I’m off to read more of her work as this bizarre feeling has captivated me completely.
About Rachel Joyce
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, and a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her work has been translated into thirty-six languages.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ 2014.
Rachel has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She moved to writing after a long career as an actor, performing leading roles for the RSC, the National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl.