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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel Paperback – March 26, 2013
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“[A] gorgeously poignant novel of hope and transformation.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“You have to love Harold Fry, a man who set out one morning to mail a letter and then just kept going. . . . Like Christian in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Harold becomes Everyman in the eyes of those who encounter him. . . . Harold's journey, which parallels Christian's nicely but not overly neatly, takes him to the edge of death and back again. It will stick with you, this story of faith, fidelity and redemption.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“For all of us perfectly responsible, stoop-shouldered suburbanites wearing a path in the living-room carpet, Harold’s ridiculous journey is a cause for celebration. This is Walter Mitty skydiving. This is J. Alfred Prufrock not just eating that peach, but throwing the pit out the window, rolling up his trousers and whistling to those hot mermaids. Released from the cage of his own passivity, Harold feels transformed, though he keeps his tie on. . . . In this bravely unpretentious and unsentimental tale, she’s cleared space where miracles are still possible.” —Washington Post
"[R]emarkable. . . . I can't think of a better recommendation for summer reading. And take your time, just as Harold does.”—USA Today, four out of four stars review
[A] story of present-day courage. . . . . about how easily a mousy, domesticated man can get lost and how joyously he can be refound.”—Janet Maslin, New York Times
“From its charming beginning to its startling and cathartic denouement, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a comic and tragic joy.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“When it seems almost too late, Harold Fry opens his battered heart and lets the world rush in. This funny, poignant story about an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey moved and inspired me.”—Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank
“There’s tremendous heart in this debut novel by Rachel Joyce, as she probes questions that are as simple as they are profound: Can we begin to live again, and live truly, as ourselves, even in middle age, when all seems ruined? Can we believe in hope when hope seems to have abandoned us? I found myself laughing through tears, rooting for Harold at every step of his journey. I’m still rooting for him.”—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
“Marvelous! I held my breath at his every blister and cramp, and felt as if by turning the pages, I might help his impossible quest succeed.”—Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
“Harold’s journey is ordinary and extraordinary; it is a journey through the self, through modern society, through time and landscape. It is a funny book, a wise book, a charming book—but never cloying. It’s a book with a savage twist—and yet never seems manipulative. Perhaps because Harold himself is just wonderful. . . . I’m telling you now: I love this book.”—Erica Wagner, The Times (UK)
“The odyssey of a simple man . . . original, subtle and touching.”—Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry takes the most ordinary and unassuming of men and turns him into a hero for us all. To go on this journey with Harold will not only break your heart, it might just also heal it.”—Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
“A gentle and genteel charmer, brimming with British quirkiness yet quietly haunting in its poignant and wise examination of love and devotion. Sure to become a book-club favorite.”— Booklist
About the Author
- Publisher : Random House Trade Paperbacks; 1st edition (March 26, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0812983459
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812983456
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #16,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Harold's life changes when he decides to walk 500 miles across England to visit a sick friend.
This book will make you want to take a long walk, and see how your life will change.
BOTH disappeared before I could save or send.
(Srsly, modern tools of convenience???)
I'll give it one more go. Apparently I feel VERY compelled to review Harold's pilgrimage.
Let me start with the fact that I REALLY wanted to give this novel a higher rating than 3 stars. Truly. But, to be fair, I just couldn't.
I will say that while I would recommend reading this, the recommendation includes stipulations (warnings? suggestions?)... but no intended spoilers. (I LOATHE those.) Here we go.
While I enjoyed the premise behind the novel and the pilgrimage, I felt that both (the novel AND the pilgrimage) needed to be edited for length. The purpose for the journey itself started out with such a sweet note of hope...and later [necessarily] segued into an even deeper discovery and disclosure of the main characters:
his wife, Maureen
their son, David,
and the person for/to whom the pilgrimage started, Queenie.
HOWEVER, there comes a point in the pilgrimage where it turns from a walk of purpose interspersed with poignant introspections and VERY relative meetings with both strangers, neighbors as well as the pasts of the main characters, into a arduous journey akin to:
slogging through calf (even knee deep in some places) mud (viscous, viscous mud)...
in heavy boots...
wearing long, thick, new jeans...
in the rain...
It really didn't have to come to that in order to get the point across. There ARE (trying to be cautious here) important triggers along the way; but, some acquaintances and incidents (ALMOST entire chapters) could have been deleted ALMOST without any effect on the ending. An ending which I felt was perfect, relevant and believable.
Do I regret reading it? Nope. Not at all.
Did I have to push myself to not skip to the end? You betcha.
The problem would have been that the ending wouldn't have made as much sense had I skipped. Simply because ALMOST every chapter contained at least one or two discoveries needed for the ending be as good as it was.
So...middle-of-the-road stars aside...yes, read it. Take your time. Take a break for a day if needed but not longer. No skips. No shortcuts.
Because, Harold's Pilgrimage drives home MANY valid issues in relationships, both past and present, which are, apparently, found in more long term relationships that I thought. Just when you think you're the only one, regardless of the reason, you find out you're not alone.
'Harold!' called Maureen above the vacuum cleaner. 'Post.'
He thought he might like to go out, but the only thing to do was mow the lawn and he had done that yesterday. The vacuum cleaner tumbled into silence, and his wife appeared, looking cross, with a letter. She sat opposite Harold.
Maureen was a slight woman with a cap of silver hair and a brisk walk. When they first met, nothing pleased him more than to make her laugh. To watch her neat frame collapse into unruly happiness.
'It’s for you,' she said. He didn't know what she meant until she slid an envelope across the table, and stopped it just short of Harold's elbow. They both looked at the letter as if they'd never seen one before. It was pink.
ABOUT THIS BOOK: A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise - and utterly irresistible - storyteller.
Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn't seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.
Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce's remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.
Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him - allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.
And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.. .
MY THOUGHTS: This is a love story. Not a romance, because there is a difference you know, but a love story. Often, as with the case of Maureen and Harold, we lose sight of the person we fell in love with. We become obsessed with keeping the house clean, and the lawns mown, with the minutiae of daily life. And perhaps we lose sight of ourselves, too.
Perhaps this is also a coming-of-age story for, although Harold is in his 60's when he goes off to post his letter to Queenie Hennessy and instead embarks on his unplanned journey, this is really about Harold rediscovering himself.
This is a book we should all read, and revisit regularly, just to remind ourselves what is really important in life. 💕💕💕💕
THE AUTHOR: Rachel Joyce has written over 20 original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4, and major adaptations for both the Classic Series, Woman's Hour and also a TV drama adaptation for BBC 2. In 2007 she won the Tinniswood Award for best radio play. She moved to writing after a twenty-year career in theatre and television, performing leading roles for the RSC, the Royal National Theatre, The Royal Court, and Cheek by Jowl, winning a Time Out Best Actress award and the Sony Silver.
DISCLOSURE: I own my copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
In their separation, Harold and his wife, Maureen, do discover some truths about each other and about themselves that would not have been possible if they did not have distance between them. But for me, the novel was unrelentingly sad with a focus on loss and regret.
Top reviews from other countries
Queenie is dying from inoperable cancer and his written to Harold to thank him for his friendship and to say goodbye.
Unsure how to respond, Harold writes an ineffectual reply that he takes to the post box but does not post. Instead, he finds himself compelled to to walk to the next post box and then the next, until he finds himself at a garage and an encounter with the checkout girl sets him off on his ‘pilgrimage’. His spontaneous decision is the start of a 600 mile walk to Berwick-on-Tweed to say goodbye to Queenie in person.
The journey that follows is expertly written in simple, light prose and its simplicity can take your breath away. Yet it’s that very simplicity that also slightly undermines the weight of some of the issues dealt with in the book. Swinging from light humour to dark despair, Harold’s journey and the people he meets are all crafted with such clarity that it appears at times more than fiction. While walking, Harold reflects on his life and his broken marriage with his wife Maureen, who has been left behind wondering if he will ever return.
Harold questions the mistakes he’s made, in particular his inability to be a father to their apparently estranged son David. His memories of failing to engage with David as a child are heartbreaking.
Despite it being a light read, I was very moved by this novel. Harold may be an ordinary every-man, but his pain is clearly drawn and I related to his regrets. He is all of us and anyone can find some aspect of their own life in him.
I really enjoyed this book: it made me laugh and cry in equal measure and despite some of its dark admissions, it is ultimately hopeful. Rachel Joyce has great faith in the human spirit and great faith in Harold. Perhaps if all us took a similar pilgrimage, we might become more aware of what it really means to be human.
The strange thing is I was carried along on his journey as both a spectator and a fellow pilgrim. As I shared in Harold’s revelations I found myself reliving the burdens and joys of my own life, understanding things I had not understood before and in other places questioning the certainty of my decisions/conclusions awarded in times of stress.
I liked Harold immensely. Both the simplicity of the man and the forlornness of him gripped by determination. He was a good mirror by which to assess certain character traits within myself.
I’m a great believer in the power and prevalence of kindness and this book did a wonderful job of bringing that to the forefront of my mind. As well as reminding me that wisdom and awareness can and must never be abandoned.
It taught me that much of the loneliness and doubt we feel during our travels through life, is far more common than we realise. And I became aware again of all the ways I have not appreciated all the good and kindness and generosity I have been blessed with in my own life. That I have far more to be grateful for than many and than I could possibly imagine most of the time. That I must not take life or all this for granted.
Perhaps most of all it’s taught me anew about responsibility and the power and need of simply putting one foot in front of the other and to keep moving even if we sometimes don’t know how we’re going to get to our destination. And in fact especially when we don’t know how we’re going to get there.
Thank you to the talented author for a beautiful read and for the encouragement to keep moving and understanding life and trying to do my best, no matter what.