Categorized | Features

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry and his wife Maureen live quietly in a small English village. Harold is recently retired and hangs around the house a lot, as does Maureen. They tend to hang around in two separate worlds. Maureen moved into the guest bedroom 20 years ago. They speak to each other (when they speak at all) in a kind of code laced with recrimination triggered by events from 20 years back that they cannot handle. Whatever it was, it was too much for both of them and it has turned their marriage into an armed truce.
Then a letter arrives from Queenie Hennessy, who has terminal cancer and is in a hospice 600 miles away in Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Harold and Queenie used to work together and although he hasn’t heard from her in 20 years, Harold writes a somewhat terse reply and sets off for the mailbox. He passes the one just down the street and sets off for the next. He passes right by that one. And the next one.
By the time he finds himself on the open road, he realizes that he won’t mail the letter, he will walk to Berwick-Upon-Tweed to Queenie. He decides that as long as he is walking, Queenie will live. It is not the kind of plan that the rational, ordinary guy Harold Fry would come up with. But the more he walks, the greater his conviction that it’s going to work.
So he walks. He’s wearing a suit and tie and deck shoes. And that’s what he wears. The shoes wear out and he gets them re-soled. He carries what little he needs in a shopping bag, ignoring the advice of passersby to get proper equipment. He’s maybe not in some kind of trance, but he’s close.
While the walk itself is a good story, the real story is what goes on in Harold’s head, which is now free of the humdrum crap of his life with Maureen. He recalls all the stuff that ever happened, and begins to admit some mistakes he’s made. Maureen, meanwhile, realizes she really misses Harold and starts looking carefully at her life and the unthinking harm she’s caused.
It’s a long walk, filled with harrowing events, numerous hangers-on and a nice clean ending. An excellent first novel.