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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A…

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

by Rachel Joyce

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2,3292592,707 (3.98)1 / 339
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
Tags:2012, lit

Work details

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

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English (254)  Spanish (5)  German (4)  Dutch (3)  Swedish (1)  All languages (267)
Showing 1-5 of 254 (next | show all)
Loved this book and finished on a recent flight. Review to follow on blog soon! ( )
  What_Katie_Read | Dec 1, 2014 |
“I’m an ordinary chap, passing by. I’m not the sort who stands out in a crowd. And I don’t trouble anyone. When I tell people what I’m doing, they seem to understand.” (99)

Harold Fry, recently retired from his mundane job, lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen. He lives quietly, seeking no attention – so much so that he might be invisible. His wife is an unhappy and bitter woman, uncertain whether she has stayed with Harold because she is lonely, or because she pities him. The couple and their son, David, were a happy family once, but the memory is, sadly, a distant one. When Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, a woman with whom he worked but has not seen in twenty years, he sets out upon an unplanned walk of some six hundred miles – to the opposite end of England, to the hospice house in which Queenie is dying of cancer. He will meet numerous interesting and varied characters on his unlikely pilgrimage, which, rather predictably, becomes a journey of truth, acceptance, and, ultimately, freedom.

The novel is a decently written, accessible read, though I am not certain I would put it in the company of literature I think of as Booker-worthy. Still, it is not without its charms: an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey, humour, grief, healing, and human kindnesses. ( )
2 vote lit_chick | Nov 26, 2014 |
Harold has had a sad life, but living best he can. Has found love, and although the love between him and his wife seemed gone, it was rekindled.... or maybe just understood after Harold takes a very long walk and painfully remembers his life. His son committed suicide. Touched me. ( )
  Pawla | Nov 6, 2014 |
Harold Fry is a sweet character! I loved getting to know him and getting to take a pilgrimage with him. There were twists and turns along the way to keep it all interesting. ( )
  elizabeth.b.bevins | Nov 4, 2014 |
I want to start out by saying this is one of my favorite books! I LOVED it!

Now - you can decide if you want to continue to read this to see why, or if you just want to go out and find the book to experience it on your own. Your choice - but I would recommend one or the other!!

This is the story of a journey by a rumpled, stoic, retired, non-starter named Harold Fry. In the first pages he receives a letter from a woman - Queenie Hennessy to thank him for his friendship and to tell him she is dying.

Harold rushes to write a reply and tells his wife he is going to the mailbox to send it. But, he isn't ready to stop walking at the mailbox - so he continues across town passing postbox after postbox and at each one he feels the need to continue moving. And that is how his 500+ mile journey to deliver his letter to Queenie in person begins.

His pilgrimage begins in a flurry of self-righteous stupidity - sounds like too many of my self-help journeys! :) He relishes the simplicity and the ease and all the new truths surrounding him. Then it gets hard and he must depend on the help of strangers. Then the help of strangers becomes his new focus - he is saving them by allowing them to help him. Then things become a bit commercialized and he looses himself in the process. Then everything falls apart and he is left bare and old and withered and the journey is still in front of him.

And when he arrives at the end of his journey...then what...

This is a story of a man and his marriage and his son and his mother and father and the life that he has so carefully created in a very English way. This is the story of what happens when you dare to step aside and really feel what is around you.

I dearly loved Harold - but honestly I loved Maureen, his wife, every bit as much. Maureen must watch and wait and remember and choose to live. Her pilgrimage takes place in her small cottage while she cleans and disinfects and eventually takes down the net curtains and lets the sun into the 'best room.'

Please read this!!! ( )
  kebets | Nov 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 254 (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 (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rachel Joyceprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Broadbent, JimNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davidson, AndrewIllustratorsecondary 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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:36 -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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