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.
Harold and Maureen Fry seem to have a very average life, at least on the surface. They’re going about their day just like any other, when the postman delivers a letter to their house in Kingsbridge that will change their lives forever. The letter is from one of Harold’s old colleague’s at the brewery where we worked before retirement. That person is Queenie Hennessy and the letter informs Harold that she has cancer. After not seeing Queenie for twenty odd years, Harold feels shocked, upset and guilty and instantly writes back. However, as he pops down the road to post the letter, something strange happens.
Once he starts walking, he can’t seem to stop. He passes post box, after post box, after post box, but still feels compelled to carry on. Then an idea forms after talking to a young girl in a garage; Harold will walk to Queenie in Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Waiting for his arrival will give her hope, something to live for and maybe even save her. He instructs Queenie to ‘wait for me’ in his letter and informs the Hospice where she is seeing out her days that he’s on his way. And so Harold’s journey begins, covering over six hundred miles in just a pair of yachting shoes…
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has been on my ‘To-Be-Read’ list for ages as I’ve read hundreds upon hundreds of amazing reviews for this novel. In a way I had my reservations about reading it because sometimes books just don’t live up to the hype, do they? However, after offering to take part in the blog tour for Rachel Joyce’s latest novel, The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy (and also a follow up to The Unlikely Pilgrimage…) I had the perfect excuse to start reading. I believe that The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy can be read as a standalone novel, but I wanted to get the full experience from these characters and read both books in succession, so that’s exactly what I did…
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of those very rare books which does live up to the hype.
This was a charming, engaging, heart wrenching and utterly beautiful story. Rachel Joyce covers so many themes within this book that everyone is bound to familiarise with something. It’s the kind of book that makes you look at your own life and really stop and think. It’s the kind of book that shows you that despite appearances, no one really knows what other people are going through. It’s the kind of book that will restore your faith in human nature. It’s also the kind of book that you CAN’T PUT DOWN.
Rachel creates memorable and frighteningly realistic characters; I for one felt as though Harold wasn’t on his journey to Berwick-Upon-Tweed alone, because I was him every step of the way. I know the phrase ‘journey of self discovery’ is banded around a lot, but this story is the ULTIMATE journey of self discovery, and not only for Harold, but for his wife, Maureen, and for one heck of a lot of other people too including the reader.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry gives you hope, it will make you cry, and it will make you raise a smile or two at the same time. There was also something very special about the ending too, which I won’t mention so as to not give anything away, but it is extremely fitting to a story about missed opportunities of the past, shutting out loved ones, regrets and giving people one more chance to make amends.
I find it incredible that this is a debut novel, but at the same time I’m now massively excited to read more of Rachel Joyce’s novels, especially The Love Song of Queenie Hennessey. In fact, writing this review has made me realise that I can wait no longer…I’m off to get stuck in.
And your eyes aren’t deceiving you – as a tribute to Harold Fry I have used yachting shoes for my rating system rather than stilettos. Just this once…
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Perfect published in July 2013. She was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012.
Joyce has also written over 20 original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4, and major adaptations for both the Classic Series, Woman’s Hour and also a TV drama adaptation for BBC 2. In 2007 she won the Tinniswood Award for best radio play.
She moved to writing after a twenty-year career in theatre and television, performing leading roles for the RSC, the Royal National Theatre, The Royal Court, and Cheek by Jowl, winning a Time Out Best Actress award and the Sony Silver.