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The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry (2012)

by Rachel Joyce

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Harold Fry (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,4934261,892 (3.96)1 / 516
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.
  1. 90
    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (tangledthread)
    tangledthread: The story and the writing style are very similar.
  2. 40
    A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Electablue, MsMaryAnn)
  3. 30
    The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce (akblanchard)
  4. 31
    Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo by Julia Stuart (Alliebadger)
    Alliebadger: Both uniquely British reflections on a unique life lived.
  5. 10
    The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year by Sue Townsend (divinenanny)
    divinenanny: Another person who decides something needs to change in life and amasses a great big following without him/her wanting to.
  6. 10
    The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg (someproseandcons)
    someproseandcons: From the book's description: Uncomfortable with the fit of her life, now that she's in the middle of it, Nan gets into her car and just goes--driving across the country on back roads, following the moon; and stopping to talk to people.
  7. 10
    Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday (tcarter)
  8. 21
    The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Brimming with quirky Britishness, these novels take on the transformative powers of doing something different. While the more humorous, satirical Uncommon Reader imagines the Queen as an increasingly sophisticated reader, the more reflective Unlikely Pilgrimage is moving and poignant.… (more)
  9. 00
    The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (charlie68)
    charlie68: Similar themes
  10. 00
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    gypsysmom: Another story of a voyage of discovery by an older person.
  11. 00
    The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson (SylviaC)
  12. 11
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    Ciruelo: An unassuming and quiet man in retirement suddenly leaves his home. Long held secrets are slowed revealed.
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    Hector and the Search for Happiness by François Lelord (Alliebadger)
    Alliebadger: Both interesting journeys about a search for meaning in life.
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    The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Alliebadger)
  17. 01
    The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (ReluctantTechie)
    ReluctantTechie: Both books deal with long-term issues of grief and the protagonists both come to closure following a journey. The situations presented are unusual but the human emotions ring true.
  18. 12
    The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty (julienne_preacher, MurphyWaggoner)
    MurphyWaggoner: Both are quests of men seeking to break through a self-imposed shell of isolation to find healing and do so by setting out on a trek across country.

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» See also 516 mentions

English (409)  Dutch (6)  German (5)  Spanish (4)  Swedish (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (428)
Showing 1-5 of 409 (next | show all)
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.


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. ( )
  kaitwallas | May 21, 2021 |
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. ( )
  KittyCunningham | Apr 26, 2021 |
I really enjoyed "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" (although there was some language that I tried to overlook). It is about an older man who starts out on a (walking) journey to visit an old friend in hospice. It turns into a pilgrimage because of the things he learns about himself and others during this time. I really enjoyed the writing of this author. When you have sentences such as: "...his body so taut with listening he felt he was more silence than boy." And, "...he watched the darkness loosen from the night sky." The whole novel is peppered with such wonderful words. ( )
  khoyt | Feb 3, 2021 |
I enjoyed this book immensely. I know that not everyone loves it and when you explain it to people they start to roll their eyes but I loved Harold. What a kind but tortured character. The psychological journey he goes on is just as interesting as the physical one. The people he meets on the road all have their good and bad qualities, just like life. Now, I want to go hiking in the U.K. ( )
  FurbyKirby | Jan 5, 2021 |
I really enjoyed this book. Love the way the story unfolded and how the characters came to terms with their lives. Harold reminded me of Backman's Ove, but without the grumpy sarcasm. A most enjoyable read. ( )
  3CatMom | Dec 28, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 409 (next | show all)
That marvelous note of absurdity tempers the pain that runs beneath this whole novel. Joyce has no interest in mocking Harold; she just describes his quixotic trek in a gentle, matter-of-fact voice, mile after mile. At 65, he’s never walked farther than his own driveway. He has no map, cellphone or change of clothes, and his thin yachting shoes couldn’t be less appropriate for such a journey across England. “Harold would have been the first to admit that there were elements to his plan that were not finely tuned,” Joyce writes. But when the idea of saving Queenie blooms in the fallow soil of his mind, he can’t be stopped. “I will keep walking,” he declares, “and she must keep living.”
added by danielx | editWashington Post, Ron Charles (Jul 6, 2014)
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 (31 possible)

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
Ward, ClaireDesignersecondary 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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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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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 ...

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