REVIEW: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Shall we have a look at something cosy and heart-warming for a change? The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a lovely, touching, feel good book.

Published in 2012 and a Sunday Times best seller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Award, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the UK National Book Award for New Author of the Year.

If you haven’t read it, you probably should because you’ve missed a little treat.

Harold Fry is relatively recently retired and lives with his wife Maureen in the town of Kingsbridge in Devon.

One morning, Harold is sitting at breakfast wondering whether he can come up with an excuse to go outside despite having mowed the lawn the previous day when an unexpected letter arrives.

The letter is from a former colleague of Harold’s, Queenie Hennessy whom Harold has not seen for many years. It informs him that she is dying of cancer in a nursing home in Berwick upon Tweed. She is writing to say goodbye.

Harold fumbles an inadequate reply to Queenie’s letter and sets off to the nearest post box to send it on his way.

But then something happens. Harold decides it is not enough to post Queenie Hennessy a letter, he needs to visit her and so he decides there and then that he is going to walk to Berwick upon Tweed and hand deliver his letter to her.

So he just carries on walking.

But Queenie is dying. Will he make it 600+-mile journey on time?

As he walks, we come across of host of characters who help Harold (or hinder him) and we learn more about him and his wife and son, as well as the reason he feels compelled to try and save Queenie.

This is a novel about life and love, friendship and doing the right thing. Joyce eloquently and effortlessly produces characters I want to support and I was willing Harold to keep walking (and Queenie to keep living). I even empathised with the indomitable Maureen.

I already know ordinary people do extraordinary things given the right circumstances so this book was definitely one for me. This was a second read for me and I enjoyed it on repeat just as much as I did first time round.

Take your time over this one and savour the story and the beautiful array of characters. And afterwards, perhaps read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and maybe even Maureen Fry and The Angel of the North by the same author.

If you haven’t read this novel, now is a pretty good time to rectify it. A film version starring Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton is due for post production in April next year and I always prefer to read the book before seeing the film.

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