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Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel…

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Rachel Joyce

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3,0313331,874 (3.96)1 / 403
Title:Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Authors:Rachel Joyce
Info:Random House Export (2012), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2012)

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English (328)  Spanish (5)  Dutch (5)  German (5)  Swedish (1)  All languages (344)
Showing 1-5 of 328 (next | show all)
Oh my - this is a must read for everyone i know. A brief note telling of a friend's cancer sets retired Harold off on a walk. From the south of England on the Channel to the north off the North Sea. Admittedly the walk was not planned, he went to the post office to mail a reply note and - just kept walking. This dying woman has saved Harold's job years ago and was fired for it. He never knew because his very distant wife didn't tell him.

Their broken relationship makes up a lot of Harold's thoughts and he begins to work out all that has gone between. He tries to help folks he meets in his odd way but the main purpose is to get to Queenie Hennessey before she passes on.

There are surprises interwoven in the story, one of which I was not at all expecting, but did explain a lot. Perfect "beach" book or any other spot book. ( )
  macygma | May 25, 2016 |
I always think there must be a special skill in writing a book which basically depicts a journey. How do you stop it becoming samey, or morphing into a travelogue? There were no worries here, as pensioner Harold sets off walking to the post office and ends up walking almost the length of the country, a story that never becomes boring. It became a bit sugary-sweet at certain points in the early stages, with an apparent message that people are all nice if you take the trouble to get to know them, and though I suspect that's true, it felt as though I was being preached at. That feeling didn't last long though. The author kept us guessing as to whether Harold's quest would succeed (I formed my own opinion when I looked back at the width of pages already read and him not yet out of the West Country), and skilfully kept back some secrets about Harold's past which would keep us going to the end. Perhaps what I liked most about it was the calm authorial voice which never gets in the way of the narrative and successfully melds together pathos and humour. The bits with Gorilla-man were the funniest - all the more so for the matter-of-fact way they were reported. And would it be a spoiler if I were to add that this is the only book I have ever read that mentions my husband's home town of Bedworth? A record that I suspect will endure. ( )
  jayne_charles | May 19, 2016 |
A beautiful book. Harold Fry, retired, decides on the spur of the moment to walk all the way from Kingsbridge in Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed to see his old colleague Queenie who is dying of cancer. As he slowly makes his way north, the reader discovers who Harold is and what his life must have been like. As his wife Maureen comes to terms with the fact that he has left, she realises she has been wrong about Harold for twenty years. This pilgrimage is life-changing. ( )
  hulswit | May 12, 2016 |
This was an easy gentle story. I got the book only because it is on the Booker longlist. I would not otherwise have chosen it, for fear of being swamped by sentimental fluffery. And that is exactly what happened. Some shark-jumping two-thirds of the way in didn't help to redeem it either.
It was 'nice'. "Nice", though, is an adjective best reserved for inoffensive teas and book pablum. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
In The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Harold Fry is a retired salesman who sets off on an unplanned cross country trek wearing yachting shoes and a simple jacket. When Queenie Hennessey, a friend Harold worked with 20 years ago, writes him from a hospice that she is dying of cancer, he immediately writes an awkward reply but, after a chance encounter on the way to post the letter, he decides he must deliver his message in person. Harold believes that his sacrificial journey will somehow make Queenie live longer. Thus begins his unlikely pilgrimage that lasts 87 days and covers 627 miles.

As Harold steps out in faith and sets off on his journey, his real motives are slowly revealed. The quest gives Harold ample time to take the opportunity to reflect on his life. Harold leaves his wife, Maureen, without a word of explanation until after he starts his journey.

Maureen and Harold have long standing issues they need to ponder and analyze. Both need to delve into some hard truths about their lives and marriage. While they both perceive the failing state of their marriage differently, unknown to each other, they actually come to many of the same realizations even while they are unable to talk about their feelings. They need to confront the truth about their son. Harold needs to face some hard facts from his childhood.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry starts off on a rather optimistic, redemptive note. It certainly doesn't initially feel like it is going to address any serious issues or face anything too complex. But, while Harold is walking to save Queenie's life, he is really examining his own life. And, while Maureen initially worries over his mental state, she eventually must also deal with herself.

Chapters alternate between Harold and Maureen and surprised me with the seriousness of the topics confronted in Harold and Maureen's lives. What initially seems to be a whimsical decision is fueled by guilt, regret, and the need for atonement. The novel seriously covered what it is to be loved as a child and an adult. It scrutinizes what love, marriage, parenthood and friendship can be, as well as regret, forgiveness, denial, and grief.

I was really cheering for Harold on his pilgrimage and found myself telling him to go get a sensible pair of boots for hiking or a backpack or... but that is part of charm of this novel. Charm that pulls you in and then, as Harold is walking through real physical pain, he also starts to reveal some other pain in his life. By the time this novel was over I was totally enthralled and definitely a fan. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

( )
1 vote SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 328 (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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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