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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by…

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2012)

by Rachel Joyce

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Harold Fry (book 1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,6132852,291 (3.97)1 / 380
  1. 60
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English (279)  Spanish (5)  German (4)  Dutch (4)  Swedish (1)  All languages (293)
Showing 1-5 of 279 (next | show all)
“The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.”

The blurb on the back of this book says "One of the best books you'll read this year." Well if there is a better one than I'm in for a treat. This was such a pleasure to read and share in Harold's adventure into self-discovery.

On the face it is such an simple plot line. Harold Fry,recently retired and married to Maureen in name only, receives a letter out of the blue from an old work colleague,Queenie Hennessy. In it she thanks him for the friendship he showed her when they worked together and informing that she in in a hospice in Berwick-on-Tweed dying of cancer.Harold goes out to post a letter back in reply and decides instead to walk from his home in South Devon to see her in person.

Along the way Harold meets all sorts of different people who in their own way are living ordinary lives.Alone Harold begins to re-evaluate his own past digging up long lost memories of his time with Maureen and his son David. It soon becomes apparent that Harold has lived a pretty insular life stemming from a neglected childhood. However, it is not until towards the very end of the book that we are told why he is so determined to succeed in this particular endeavour, especially as we already know that its not out of a great love for Queenie, and I must admit the revelation when it arrived took me totally by surprise.

I feel I must admit at this point that I am a walker or ambler myself often going out on my own so I feel a certain sympathy for Harold. Like him walking allows me at times to take a step back and see events in my own life in a different light. However, you don't need to be a walker to enjoy this book. The prose is both simple and beautiful, you find yourself willing Harold as he makes discoveries about himself and the world around him. Many of the observations of human frailties are so poignant that at times I cried and others laughed out loud.

I have read a few reviews bemoaning the fact that nothing really happens but I feel that they are missing the point. This book is not really about the extraordinary but the ordinary things in life and should go on to everyone's reading list. It's a real treat. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jul 26, 2015 |
Review in 25 words or less: Harold takes a long walk, his wife doesn't, and they both learn about their failings, and about marriage, love, and grief.

Harold Fry, a resident of South Devon, is a recent retiree, married, and the father of a grown man. He has received a letter from an old work colleague, Queenie, who is dying of cancer in a hospice in the north of England. Harold decides to write her a letter, then to go out and post it, and then he makes the portentous decision to walk to Berwick-upon-Tweed, which he thinks will give Queenie hope, and quite possibly stop the cancer in its tracks.

Harold is not prepared for the journey. He lacks the proper equipment, the right shoes, the level of fitness required. In many ways, too, he is not equipped for the journey on an emotional level. Although in some ways he is invigorated mentally by having time to think and be alone, he discovers that there are things that he is thinking about that he'd much rather not. Circumstances and people on his way northward detract from his peace, his isolation, his plans. The journey takes on a life of its own, separate from Harold.

This is a great story of a marriage, a man and a woman, of friendship, faith, belief, in the great things and in the small. It is a romance, a brief return to youth, and an acceptance of old age. It made me cry, but in a good, cathartic way. I felt sometimes that the author was tugging a little too hard on the heartstrings, where subtlety would have done better, but on the whole, I enjoyed the book, and put it down only to sleep. The novel's biggest strength, I think, is that it made me think about what I've done with my life, and about what I need to change; a book that can invite that sort of self-reflection has done its job well.

I recommend this book highly. ( )
  ahef1963 | Jul 10, 2015 |
Recently retired Harold Fry receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She has written from a hospice and is very ill. Harold walks to the corner mailbox to post his reply but just keeps walking, believing he must deliver the letter to Queenie by hand so she will not die. He has 600 miles to cover - in boat shoes and without any appropriate gear. During his pilgrimage he will meet many people and reflect upon his life. A beautiful story, very well told. ( )
  boppisces | Jul 4, 2015 |
Mostly an interior dialogue, so unworthy of sharing.
  cherilove | May 25, 2015 |
This was a good story. Sometimes a bit slow but overall it kept me entertained. It was about a man named Harold Fry who gets a letter from this woman Queenie Hennesey. The letter was to inform Harold that's she had cancer and she was dying. Harold writes her a quick reply and goes to put it in the mail box only he keeps walking, so he will post it at the post office, he keeps walking, next he meets this girl in a garage and because of what she says he is going to walk to save Queenie. Much more happens on the walk. So much healing. This was such a good book with a surprise ending, at least for me it was.

My favorite quote: "He learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other;and it might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing it for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same,and also unique;and that this was the dilemma of being human. ( )
  bwhitner | Apr 16, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 279 (next | show all)
Ultimately, the success of Joyce's writing depends less on the credibility (or otherwise) of what actually happens, so much as her unerring ability to convey profound emotions in simple, unaffected language. Here, for example, is Harold contemplating the gulf that opened up between himself and his wife following the birth of their son: "It both deepened his love for her and lifted her apart, so that just at the moment when he thought their marriage would intensify, it seemed to lose its way, or at least set them in different places."

And, appropriately for a novel inspired by loss, it contains a brilliant summation of grief – not expressed by Harold, but by his neighbour Rex (Bunyan called him Plausible), who is gradually coming to terms with the death of his wife: "I miss her all the time. I know in my head that she has gone. the only difference is that I am getting used to the pain. It's like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with, you forget it's there and keep falling in. After a while, it's still there, but you learn to walk round it."

Joyce's novel is prone to sentimentality, while the overpoweringly good intentions of its hero can seem a little pious. But there's no doubt that it's an original, quietly courageous testament to the inhuman effort of being normal.
Very rarely, you come upon a novel that feels less like a book than a poignant passage of your own life, and the protagonist like an acquaintance who has gently corrected your path. Never mind that the protagonist possesses all the realism of a painted clown and his tale the moral fibre of a fable.

Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry starts off in just this way. A rumpled retiree determines to walk 500 miles, believing his hope-filled steps will keep his dying friend alive. The premise seems quaint and predictable, but morphs gracefully into a smart, subtle, funny, painful, weirdly personal novel.
The unlikely but lovable hero of Rachel Joyce's remarkable debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, doesn't call his walk a pilgrimage. He never even calls it a hike, which would suggest planning, a map and hiking boots, all of which Harold lacks....Pilgrimage, one of the 12 novels just long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Britain's top literary award, is a gentle adventure with an emotional wallop. It's a smart, feel-good story that doesn't feel forced.
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is not just a book about lost love. It is about all the wonderful everyday things Harold discovers through the mere process of putting one foot in front of the other. “The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other,” ........The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” takes its opening epigraph from John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It takes the stirring spirituality of its ending from Bunyan too. In between Ms. Joyce’s book loosely parallels “The Pilgrim’s Progress” at times, but it is very much a story of present-day courage. She writes about how easily a mousy, domesticated man can get lost and how joyously he can be refound.
Joyce slowly reveals what he has to walk away from, and there are some surprises. His progress is measured in memories as well as miles; memories of parents who didn’t want him, and of the early days of his marriage and his only son David’s childhood. There are a few lapses in the story—events and characters that come along at convenient moments—but Joyce captures Harold’s emotions with a tidiness of words that is at times thrilling. It’s a trip worth taking.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rachel Joyceprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Andreas, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Andreas-Hoole, MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Broadbent, JimNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davidson, AndrewIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zwart, JannekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be
Come wind, come weather.
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress
For Paul, who walks with me, and for my father,
Martin Joyce (1936-2005)
First words
The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.
He fell silent, and so did Martina. He felt safe with what he had confided. It had been the same with Queenie. You can say things in the car and know she had tucked them somewhere safe among her thoughts, and that she would not judge him for them, or hold it against him in years to come. He supposed that was what friendship was, and regretted all the years he had spent without it.
He had learned it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.
He watched the squares of buttery light inside the houses, and people going about their business. He thought of how they would settle in their beds and try to sleep through their dreams. It struck him again how much he cared, and how relieved he was that they were somehow safe and warm, while he was free to keep walking. After all, it had always been this way; that he was a little apart.
If he kept looking at the things that were bigger than himself, he knew he would make it to Berwick.
You could think you were starting something afresh, when actually what you were doing was carrying on as before. He had faced his shortcomings and overcome them, and so the real business of walking was happening only now.
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Book description
Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance.
Haiku summary
I'm just popping out
To post this letter, dear! Next
Stop: Berwick on Tweed ...

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812993292, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2012: Harold Fry--retired sales rep, beleaguered husband, passive observer of his own life--decides one morning to walk 600 miles across England to save an old friend. It might not work, mind you, but that's hardly the point. In playwright Rachel Joyce's pitch-perfect first novel, Harold wins us over with his classic antiheroism. Setting off on the long journey, he wears the wrong jacket, doesn't have a toothbrush, and leaves his phone at home--in short, he is wholly, endearingly unprepared. But as he travels, Harold finally has time to reflect on his failings as a husband, father, and friend, and this helps him become someone we (and, more important, his wife Maureen) can respect. After walking for a while in Harold Fry's very human shoes, you might find that your own fit a bit better. --Mia Lipman

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:21 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance.

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