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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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3,4203701,579 (3.97)1 / 444
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

Work details

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

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Showing 1-5 of 364 (next | show all)
This was incredibly sad. I loved the unfolding of Harold's life as he walked. I loved how Harold and Maureen took the time apart to find themselves again. They were so sad for so long and holding each other in that sadness. It took him walking for them to finally let go of it. For a little while, I was afraid they weren't going to be able to do it. ( )
  Kitty.Cunningham | Jul 19, 2017 |
I loved this book. At first, I thought it would just be sort of a charming, quaint story as only the Brits can write - and indeed on one level it is. But it gets better and better (which I find is a rare thing with books), becoming a tale with a deeper message, and manages to achieve that without resorting to sentimentality. Really a joy to read. ( )
  meredk | Jul 6, 2017 |
I thought this book might be charming, but I was unprepared for it to be so much deeper than that. It's both moving and insightful. Joyce is a fantastic writer, but not in a showy way. The prose is clear, straightforward, and wise - it never gets in the way of the narrative, but includes plenty of meaty gems to digest later. Joyce recognizes that there are no easy answers in life, but she doesn't let that stop her from bringing the story to a natural, bittersweet conclusion, where the reader feels immensely satisfied. I also thought it was very intelligent of Joyce to not cast Harold's wife as a villain, as she so easily could've been. As the story unfolds, Maureen grows and develops as a personality as well - she also goes on a spiritual journey, if not a physical one. An intelligent and enjoyable book that will make you appreciate life and those around you a little bit more. An excellent book, highly recommended.
  wintersdoor | Jul 2, 2017 |
Rachel Joyce: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Harold Fry, retired and in his 60s, a reclusive and quiet man in a now loveless marriage that maintains itself through habit but with deep, unspoken strains within it, one day receives a brief note from a dying woman, Queenie Hennessy, with whom he had worked 20 years previously. Harold is much moved by the note, pens a brief reply, and goes out to mail it. But a strange thing happens and he decides, on the spur of the moment, to walk all the way from his home in the deep south of England to where Queenie is in a hospice, in Berwick-upon-Tweed in the far north of England on the Scottish border. Harold is unfit, unprepared, untrained, and unperturbed. And so begins a remarkable pilgrimage the length of England; all because he phoned the hospice with a message for Queenie to say that he is walking to her and that she must hang on until he gets there.

Harold Fry is a wonderful character. His walk, his pilgrimage, refocuses and
reanimates his life. The pilgrimage works on various levels, and Harold’s experience is the particular through which Joyce explores universal themes. The pilgrimage is an odyssey in the two senses of the word: an extended, adventurous voyage, and a spiritual quest. It is certainly an extended adventure; Harold sets out without any preplanned route, with no special equipment; he can at best cover only a few miles a day and so the walk is going to take months; his adventures are not Odyssian in the sense of danger, but he meets a large cross-section of the population, most of whom influence him one way or another and almost all of whom show him kindness, especially when they learn of his mission. Like Odysseus, Harold’s destination, his objective is known; what is not given is whether he can surmount the physical and emotional challenges that the pilgrimage will incur.

Harold discovers, as he says in one of his daily phone calls to his wife, Maureen, that
everyone is interesting if you just talk to them. He comes to see people as individuals with individual histories, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, happiness and regrets….weights of life that everyone carries inside them, not just blank entities against which we bump as we progress through life. In one of his encounters, Harold realizes, “The silver-haired gentleman was in truth nothing like the man Harold had imagined him to be. He was a chap like himself, with a unique pain; and yet there would be no knowing that if you passed him in the street, or sat opposite him in a café and did not share his teacake.”

Physically, after initial aches and pains of blisters and sore muscles, Harold becomes
fitter and leaner than he has ever been. He becomes more of a physical essence as he sheds pounds and conventions of dress and comportment. He also sheds the appurtenances of modern life. He realizes that, “Life was very different when you walked through it”. He sees nature, especially the flora, in all its variety and complexity and beauty and he discovers its ability to sustain life if you know how to use it. He slows his life to natural, circadian rhythms contrasting with the unnatural speeds of modern life epitomized by the rushing vehicles on the highways where Harold does a good deal of his walking. He seeks out the country lanes and smaller villages as opposed to the artificial conglomerations of cities. Looking over a city that he comes to, Harold realizes, “There was so much out there, so much life, going about its daily business of getting by, or suffering and fighting, and not knowing he was sitting up there, watching. Again he felt in a profound way that he was both connected, and passing through. Harold began to understand that this was also the truth about his walk. He was both a part of things, and not.”

Although it was certainly not in his mind as he set out, the long walk, the time alone to
think, the new appreciations of life, all stimulate a spiritual, internal quest as Harold explores, not always willingly, the deep regrets of his life: his relationship with his son, the disengagement of his marriage, and his shameful reaction to a generosity by
Queenie that led to her being fired from her job and disappearing from his life.

Harold’s sudden and inexplicable adventure initially bewilders and angers Maureen but as she copes with it, she is forced into her own spiritual quest and a reconsideration of the events that have so affected their lives together; a thinking-through of guilt and anger that have festered and destroyed love. The weights that people carry are not just within strangers; they exist even within those with whom we are most intimate.

Harold’s final arrival and meeting with Queenie could have easily slipped into the
maudlin. But Joyce is too good a writer to allow that and their reuniting is poignant in the extreme; it is also real, it is life and it is that other great universal: death and, if you are lucky, the kindness of people at the end.

A well-written, thoughtful book. A pleasure to read.
  John | Jun 28, 2017 |
Not a book I would normally choose. I did get emotional in the end, and it is a very well done book, however it's just not my thing. ( )
  Serenova_Phoenix | Jun 26, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 364 (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 editionscalculated
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 8 descriptions

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