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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Rachel Joyce

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,0403371,864 (3.96)1 / 403
Member:johnmackfreeman
Title:The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel
Authors:Rachel Joyce
Info:Random House (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:2012, lit

Work details

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

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English (331)  Spanish (5)  Dutch (5)  German (5)  Swedish (1)  All languages (347)
Showing 1-5 of 331 (next | show all)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry -Joyce
audio performance by Jim Broadbent
4 stars

I don’t know what to think about poor Harold. He’s such a nice guy, but he is so disturbingly passive! Given his background, it’s amazing the he hasn’t a backlog of homicidal anger. He had only one justifiable outburst, but he never really faced the consequences of his anger. Hence, the unlikely pilgrimage of atonement. It never was about keeping Queenie Hennessey alive. Harold wants absolution.
I enjoyed this book. There were plenty of humorous moments in Harold’s walk across England, and Harold seems to have a positive influence on the characters he meets along the way. I can’t say that he affected me in the same way. I didn’t see anything wise or profound in his ill planned quest. It was heart breaking and I wanted to rescue Harold from himself. It a very good thing I couldn’t step into the book to do that. It would have ruined a perfectly good story.

( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Not since Tolkien has so much walking been so exhaustively recounted, yet been almost completely tangential to the actual story. (And though there weren't any eagles, there were, like, cars and stuff to explain away.)

Harold is quintessentially British. I completely lost count of the times where he did something like walk into a shop and feel compelled to buy something because the worker was staring at him, and he was the reason they weren't able to close yet.

When he finds out an old friend with whom he's lost touch is dying of cancer, he finds that he can't find the words to say. I'd blame this on the Britishness, but I really don't know that any nationality has the proper phrasing for this, with exception of possibly hakuna matata, which is actually Swahili but not the phrasing anyone who speaks Swahili would actually use.

Anyway.

He goes to mail a trite letter, only when he gets to the postbox he decides he's going to walk to her instead. 600-some miles away.

That's probably enough of the plot. It's not about the destination, it's about the journey. Except it's not really about the journey, either. It's more about Harold's life, and the walk is a penance for all of it. It's purgatory for his wife, who's at home and has held Harold in a subconscious begrudging resentment. And it's a little slice of heaven for the neighbor, Rex, who hasn't had so utility for or interaction with other people in months.

The heartache and emotion that's screwed out of Harold with every step is riveting, if punctuated with several gut-punches. The plotting of the walk itself gets fairly repetitious, as Harold vacillates between rapture and despair with numbing regularity. But peoples' reaction to Harold, his walk and the inevitable nonsense that encircles all of it are eminently believable, especially in the age of social media. And the ending, while not exactly Disney-happy, feels satisfying and earned.

I'm not saying I'd want to read a whole trilogy about the walk (and we're already two-thirds of the way there), but it's worth the effort to amble through. ( )
  thoughtbox | May 27, 2016 |
3.5 Stars

Read all my reviews on http://urlphantomhive.booklikes.com

Harold Fry, recently retired, receive a letter from a former colleague and friend who's now in a hospice dying from cancer. While he at first only plans to post a card with his support, he ends up walking all across England to visit her. Like a modern pilgrimage.

This was one of these books that kept staring at me every time I entered a book store. The story had always seemed interesting but somehow, in the end, I never bought the book. Until last summer. And I'm glad I did.

In general it was a nice story about an old man trying to find out what his worth in life is. His pilgrimage is more than just a walk, he is finding out who he is and trying to deal with some problems that have been bothering him for a very long time. While beautiful most of the time, there were a few points that it was a bit too much, too preachy for me. Like for example when he decides that he doesn't need anything any more and continues without food and money. However, overall I really liked the book. It was a nice read. ( )
  Floratina | May 26, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 331 (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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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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 ...
(passion4reading)

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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