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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
4,8014411,862 (3.96)1 / 523
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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» See also 523 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 423 (next | show all)
I liked this book. Slow at times but is really very sweet. All about regret, forgiveness, and redemption. ( )
  kathp | Jun 10, 2022 |
I enjoyed it although I found myself at times wishing we'd get to the end quicker. That was mostly due to frustration with some of the characters, though. Good book - I would recommend it. ( )
  Wren73 | Mar 4, 2022 |
Harold Fry sets out to mail a letter and then decides that what he has written is inadequate. So he decides to walk over 500 hundred miles to visit a former co-worker who is in hospice dying of cancer. When he left to mail the letter Harold and his wife were barely speaking. A walk to mail a letter turns into a pilgrimage across England. As Harold walked he picked up followers and companions though he really wanted to walk by himself. Part of The Unlikely Pilgrimage seems like a Camino de Santiago journal and part like Forest Gump. Some surprises along the way. ( )
  MMc009 | Jan 30, 2022 |
An interesting book. Enjoyable for the most part, but at times a little plodding and forgettable, just like a long walk is.

It's definitely a book of three distinct parts. Part one , where Harold decides on his pilgrimage and walks to Stroud, is the longest part of the book (about 200 or so pages). This bit deals a lot with Harold's memories, and those of Maureen. This part of the book I thought dragged on quite a bit. Every time I thought he was making some progress (both geographically and metophorically), we are introduced to another incomplete scene from his past, which slowed the story to the point at which I got a little bored. The details of the scenery were pleasant and helped to give a sense of place. There was alot of detail about feet, which got a bit bit tedious though.

Part 2 is where Harold attracts a number of followers along on his journey. This bit was interesting although reminded me a bit too much of Forrest Gump. We don't get to know too much about any of them, but that's generally how things go when you're on a long walk - you meet people, get to know a little about them, and then they're gone ... which doesn't really add much to the story (or it didn't to me). But here the story finally became exciting.

However, at this point I noticed that at one point in the story we were in Stroud, the next thing we are in Darlington. There's a lot of country between Stroud and Darlington (I've worked in both). The descriptions of the towns and landscape have vanished. Once Harold starts meeting people, the story could be taking place anywhere. The sence of place has gone. I think this is explained a little by the fact the author lives in Gloucestershire, but I felt a little let down that her georaphical detail failed beyond that point.

Harold also manages to learn the entire British flora in a few weeks, which annoyed me ... I do botanical surveys professionally and it took me two weeks to learn the common ones ...

In part 3, when Harold arrived at Berwick, the story ties up nicely. There are some interesting facts revealed about Harold's past. But I was left feeling a little disappointed. Again this could be taking place anywhere, which is a shame considering that it is about a journey, but that is not the point at this stage. It ended, and I was left thinking, 'Is that it?'

In all it was an interesting idea, but it was formulaic, and in terms of level of detail and character developemnt, it was unbalanced. I'm still not sure whether I actually liked it or not.

Changed my rating from 3 stars to 2 as I just sent it to the charity shop. ( )
  Triduana | Jan 25, 2022 |
What a gem! This is a beautiful, gentle book about love and loss and healing. It’s an amazing physical journey but more important is Harold’s inner journey to make sense of his past. So many delightful cameos of believable people he met on his way. Without being religious Harold expresses a truly religious world view. I loved this book. ( )
  pruthomas | Dec 14, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 423 (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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