The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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jul. 28, 2012, 9:07 am

This thread is for reviews and discussion of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, which was selected for the 2012 Booker Prize longlist.

jul. 28, 2012, 9:29 am

My review:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

This debut novel was longlisted for the Booker Prize the other day, and was the first of the 12 titles I decided to read. By the end, I was worried that I was having flashbacks to last year, when the novels were about readability rather than quality writing. Joyce is, in my mind, nothing beyond a normal commercial writer, and her novel left no real lasting impression. I'm not sorry I read it, but I'm not thrilled with it either.

The plot: Harold Fry, 65, living in a unhappy marriage, get a lette from an old colleague, Queenie, who is dying of cancer. Harold sets out to mail a reply back to Queenie, but he walks right past the nearest mailbox. Then he walks past another. And another. Finally Harold decides to walk the entire length of England to the hospice where Queenie is dying, in hopes that his faith in her can keep her alive.

Most of the novel is Harold's journey, and the people he meets along the way, and the lessons he learns from them. Some of the chapters focus on his wife, Maureen, left at home to try and understand what it is her husband is doing. I enjoyed Maureen as a character far more than Harold, and kind of wished that it had been her pilgrimage, rather than his.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was a quick read, and a sweet story, and I can see it appealing to a lot of readers. But the Booker is about the best in literature, and this certainly was not the best.

3 stars

ag. 3, 2012, 10:19 am

I am half way though Unlikely Pilgrimage and I am really enjoying it. I will say more once I finish it.

ag. 3, 2012, 11:08 am

#2 - Oh no! I was afraid of this when I read the description (and saw the long list of holds at the library). Perhaps I will bump this one down the list a bit and make Bring Up the Bodies a priority by reading Wolf Hall first.

ag. 3, 2012, 10:21 pm

Occasionally I read a book that really touches my heart. Last year it was The Sound of Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, and this year it has been The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

It is a marvelous book. Sometimes it is joyous, sometimes it is sad. I bought it as an e-book but I will buy a printed version so I can lend it to friends that don't have a Kindle.

I loved all of the characters in the book - Harold, Maureen, Queenie, Rex and the people Harold met on his journey. 5/5.

ag. 15, 2012, 11:28 pm

I received this one from ER, and while it was sweet, there were too many frustrating bits with both the characters' actions and the writing choices. I agree with Cait86's review completely.

ag. 19, 2012, 7:44 am

Here is my review for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Harold Fry receives a letter from an old friend and colleague that she is in hospice. Queenie, his old friend ,does not have long to live. Harold is so touched by the letter, that he sets off by foot, to visit her, without thinking clearly about the 100 mile walk he is embarking on. When Harold places a brief call to the hospice, a Sister there suggests to him that many dying people will hang on to life until seeing those dear to them. Thus Harold continues on his walk - or pilgrimage, to see his colleague.

Our protagonist is a 65 year old man, retired and in a stale and somewhat cold marriage. Something has gone awry with their son, but we are not privy to what that is until very close to the end of the book. As Harold walks each day , he reflects back on his childhood, marriage, how he failed his son and many other events in his life. As he walks he is joined by people from all " walks" of life. Each person affects him in different ways and helps evoke certain memories from Harold's life. These people also give him him hope and appreciation for life as they share small portions of their varied lives. Harold's world grows much broader.

I found myself underlining many passages of wisdom as I read the book . While I did not find the book to be sentimental, I challenge anyone who reads the book not to have tears in their eyes during the last pages in the book.

Although The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is long - listed for the Booker, I suspect it will not make the short list. That said, I found this to both the most uplifting and also heartbreaking book that I have read in a long time. I have my copy on a kindle, and I plan to pick up a paper copy so as to underline all of the passages that I so enjoyed. I also think that The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will find a very large audience. I plan to purchase several copies to give away as gifts.

A thoughtful , insightful, wonderful read , widely recommended.

4.25 stars

ag. 24, 2012, 9:36 am

I finished this book a couple of days ago and really enjoyed it. I found that I couldn't put it down, I had to find out the ending. I agree with another reviewer that there were frustrating parts to the story here and there, but the behaviour of the characters was believable. In the end the book left me with a satisfied feeling. A sweet story.

ag. 27, 2012, 5:42 am

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At the beginning I was afraid it would descend into sentimentality but was delighted to find that Rachel Joyce managed to avoid being twee. Ok so most of Harold's comments and insights on life that he gains during his walk are not exactly light bulb moments but I did warm to him.

I do agree with Cait86 that this is not a Booker prize winner - more like a Costa contender.

My full review is at…old-fry-review

set. 3, 2012, 10:45 am

My review isn't really interesting enough to post on this thread--I couldn't find anything much to say about this book. It was cute. Bitter-sweet. Good, deep characters. A nice message. I can see why some people would love it. But I'm personally not too fond of bitter-sweet or of reminisce-about-regrets types of books.

I gave it 3.5 stars.

set. 8, 2012, 2:58 pm

Have just started reading this book with a sigh of relief....very easy to read....yes perhaps leaning towards sentimentality and a touch predictable but I like the writing and the thoughts very much.

des. 25, 2012, 11:59 pm

My review:

Harold Fry is recently retired. Harold Fry has issues. Harold Fry has regrets. Harold Fry believes his marriage to be emotionally dead. But, Harold Fry is also pretty accomplished at not thinking about these things. Until the letter arrives. Until he begins walking to the mailbox to post a letter of his own. And then...his story, or more accurately his life, really begins.

Harold's pilgrimage is about discovery. Harold's first discovery is of the beauty of nature all around him, and he wonders how he overlooked this beauty all of his life. He next discovers that he has physical limitations, going as he does from sitting in his chair all day to undertaking a 500-mile walk on a whim.

As the miles slowly but steadily go by, we are allowed to join Harold as he tends his blisters, relives happy and sad memories, and meets interesting people. We are privileged to walk with him as examines his life, both good parts and bad. Meanwhile, Maureen, his wife of a good many years, begins her own journey. Harold's sudden pilgrimage is frustrating and confusing to her. Maureen fears what this means to her marriage. Yet, they do not share their discoveries with each other.

As the distance traveled increases, so do the intensity of both Harold's and Maureen's experiences and memories.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry draws the reader gently into Harold's journey. It becomes more and more difficult to put the book down. And the ending, which wraps up all the story lines very well, takes the reader completely by surprise.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is an excellent book, and one I plan to re-read often. 4.5 stars

feb. 16, 2013, 5:13 pm

Here's my review:

Harold Fry has recently retired after working as a salesman for a local brewery for many years. He was competent but quiet, nondescript and largely anonymous to his co-workers. He lives with his wife Maureen in a modest home in Kingsbridge, a small village in South West England. Their marriage has been strained for years, as Maureen harbors bitterness and a deep seated hostility toward Harold, although she does not openly express a desire to leave him.

On one ordinary day Harold receives a letter from his former colleague Queenie Hennessy, who resides in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, the northernmost town in England. She informs him that she has end-stage cancer, and writes to say goodbye to him. Harold is deeply affected by this news, and he immediately writes a letter of sympathy to her. He leaves home to mail the letter, and in doing so he encounters a teenage girl who works at a garage. After Harold informs her of the purpose of his trip, she tells him about her aunt's case of cancer. He is led to believe that the girl's belief led her aunt to overcome her terminal illness. He is greatly inspired by this, and he spontaneously decides to walk from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed, a journey of over 500 miles, in the hope that doing so will cure Queenie.

As Harold walks, wearing only the street clothes, rain jacket and yachting shoes that he wore when he initially left the house, he reflects on his past mistakes in his relationship with his wife, their son David, and Queenie, who was fired from her job at the brewery in an incident that also involved him. He soon realizes that he has been an indifferent and reserved husband and father, unknowable to them, or to himself:

It occurred to him it was Maureen who spoke to David and told him their news. It was Maureen who had always written Harold's name ("Dad") in the letters and cards. It was even Maureen who had found the nursing home for his father. And it raised the question—as he pushed the button at the pelican crossing—that if she was, in effect, Harold, “then who am I?”

He encounters a variety of people on his journey, most of whom support and encourage him once he tells them his story, and they eagerly share their experiences with him. Maureen is initially furious at him after she learns about his decision, but later her feelings transform to jealousy, despair, concern, and longing for him.

As the journey becomes more arduous and the constant walking takes a toll on his mid-sixties body, his spirit begins to flag, and he wonders if he should have undertaken this foolhardy journey.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is meant to be an inspiring story of secular faith, self-discovery and love. However, I found it to be a banal and saccharine novel, which was largely pleasant but not one which was affecting or filled with wisdom, although the ending was easily the best part of the book. It, like Harold before his journey, was largely forgettable and mildly annoying in spots, and although it wasn't a bad book, it was the least favorite of the 2012 Booker Prize longlisted books I've read so far.

oct. 13, 2014, 3:54 am

I enjoyed the twists, which made me think that what I had previously found twee and saccharine (he writes to the girl in the garage? Come on!) was actually deliberate misdirection by the author about the kind of book it was - but they came so late that I was already thinking badly of it, and there was no way back.

Wasn't Harold supposed to be newly retired - so 65 or so? It felt as if he was written a lot older than that, and I wouldn't have thought many 65ish year old women answer to Queenie these days.

feb. 24, 2015, 1:35 am

I really enjoyed this book. It's thoughtful, kind, and, sometimes, funny. If you liked it, too, you may like "A Man Called Ove" by Fredrik Backman.

feb. 24, 2015, 6:15 am

Touchstone fairy says: A Man Called Ove