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Unlikely pilgrimage maybe, but very enjoyable
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce
Member Name: cerys82
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce
Advantages: Moving story, very compulsive
Disadvantages: Loses a little bit of its momentum about 3/4 of the way through
I have wanted to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry for a while because I had heard a lot about it but I wanted to wait until it was out on paperback. It is available on Amazon at the time of writing for £3.85 in paperback or £2.69 on Kindle.
The premise is pretty simple and laid out almost instantly in the book. Retired alcohol salesman Harold Fry receives a letter at his home in Kingsbridge, Devon from former work colleague Queenie Hennessy who he has had no contact with for 20 years. In the letter she tells him that she is in a hospice dying of cancer. Harold, shocked by this sudden news writes a letter back to her and leaves the house to go to the end of the road to post this letter, but then decides to walk a bit further. A conversation with a young petrol station cashier triggers something in him and he makes the sudden decision that he will walk all the way from Devon to where Queenie is ailing in Scotland and sets off on his journey completely unprepared.
On his way he encounters a number of different individuals, all of whom open up to him revealing all sorts of hopes, fears, regrets and problems as a sort of catharsis when they hear about his pilgrimage. Harold himself keeps quite private and we learn through his internal thoughts about his own fractured relationship with his wife and son and the potential reasons that have led him to take on tis seemingly impossible task. Meanwhile, back home in Devon his wife Maureen struggles to come to terms with his decision to take on this task but similarly goes over their shared history in her head , helping to piece together the mysteries, tragedies and sadness that have plagued most of their marriage.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this book and unusually for me in recent times, I managed to finish it in just a few days. Joyce really knows how to spin a good yarn and where it is particularly strong is in the details of Harold and Maureen's life that she initially holds back and then gradually lets seep through as the story goes on. In that sense it is very well plotted, and although I guessed one of the twists this did not mean that it lacked emotional punch when the truth was actually revealed. There is strangely a sense of believability with it, the protagonists of Harold and Maureen are quite well and realistically drawn, especially as we learn more about their stories and they both seem to be stumbling towards some kind of redemption as they realise that they have lost their way and are both travelling in completely different directions metaphorically.
The writing is clear and quite sparse, it is certainly not a book which is 'overwritten' by any means. The people that Harold encounters on his way are mainly described in only the most basic of terms and are rather defined by what they say rather than what they look like or by what Harold's opinion of them may be. It makes him more likeable as a character that he is polite to all of these people who are 'intruding' on his mission and trying to proffer their own meaning onto what he is doing, whether that they are trying to define him as undergoing a spiritual or religious journey or vulnerable and undergoing some kind of mental health crisis. Ultimately, Harold does not allow himself that level of analysis and keeps telling himself that he must stay focussed on the journey ahead. it is by doing this that he quite believably learns to come to terms with various painful periods that have shaped his life and the person that he has become.
There are perhaps a few minor quibbles. It is slightly unevenly paced at times, for example it spends a lot of time going over the early stages in Harold's journey and then seems to rush the story through a bit as he moves further up the country. I also lost a bit of patience when it got about 3 quarters of the way through it when a rag-tag bunch of troubled folks and attention seekers decided they are going to join Harold for some mainly selfish reasons.
I would also like to say something about the ending without giving any spoilers of course. It is a refreshing change to read something which could lapse into sentimentality very easily but this really does not. It does not cop out at all at the end and I think that is something to be applauded and I think some people will be quite distressed by elements of it.
In conclusion, if you are looking for a really good, well written story that will suck you in, you really cannot do any better than to go for this book. In many elements it really comes under the mantle of 'a great summer/holiday read'. Expect to be gripped, intrigued and eventually moved by this wonderful life affirming story which is one of the most enjoyable things that I have read for a while.
Summary: Enjoy your journey with Harold Fry