Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

5 Star

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. 

Lydia - 5 Star

I LOVED this novel. My only regret is that my life became insanely busy while I was reading this wonderful novel so I was ridiculously slow to finish it. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry deserves to be gobbled up in a couple of sittings, and not over two weeks (which is the longest it has taken me to read a novel in years). Sentimental, subtle, mysterious, nostalgic, and heartfelt, this novel tugs at the heartstrings and makes you think.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a slower story, but the emotion, the subtlety are intense. You can't help but think about your life, and you cannot help but hope and pray that your life doesn't end up as one dimensional as Harold's and that's you'll feel like your life doesn't amount to much as Harold does. This is a novel that makes you ponder your existence so be forewarned. It is definitely not all doom and gloom though, so don't let that stop you from picking this one up. Just the opposite in fact. It's gloriously tragic and uplifting at the same time and might unlock dormant memories as you journey alongside Harold Fry.

Harold Fry is an unlikely hero. He's a typical older British man - quiet, serious and reserved, and there is just something about him that you can't help but root for. He wants to do something with his life and his quiet determination to walk to Queenie is admirable and at times baffling. All the characters in this novel are intriguing and fascinating, especially all the  people Harold meets along his modern day pilgrimage.

This novel skips back and forth from Harold's story to his wife, Maureen's perspective, and is handled expertly. I loved that we are treated to her side of the story and privy to her transformation alongside her husband's. Their relationship is the cliched one you typically hear of - been married for decades, are like ships passing in the night, have no connection anymore, and are sleeping in separate rooms. It is only as the novel progresses that we discover their relationship is not as cliched as we were led to believe and the reasons for their predicament is gradually unveiled at exactly the right times. At first Maureen's character annoyed me somewhat, but as the novel progressed, I grew to understand her tough exterior and began rooting for these two passing ships to reconnect.

There are a few shockers in this one that I wasn't expecting and more than a few lines that made me rock back on my heels and go 'wow'.  I shed a few tears and I loved how The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry made me think and that it was such an unusual, unpredictable story. I can't wait to read more by Rachel Joyce! Definitely pick this one up if you're looking for something different! 

Thank you to Doubleday Canada for our review copy!  All opinions are our own.

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