The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

What a delightful book to read on a Saturday afternoon. This simple and elegant book is a long listed on booker and is a debut novel of Rachel Joyce. “The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday.”  This normal, regular, touching, moving and extraordinary tale of Harold Fry will make you sit back and think or even better, do something spontaneous.

Harold Fry, six months post retirement receives a letter from a long lost colleague, who at some point was a friend and a confidant, that she is in the last stages of cancer and wanted to say good bye. Harold, going through difficult time of his own, with his life falling apart, tells his wife that he is going to go and post a letter to “Queenie” (colleague). Something breaks lose in Harold on his way to the post office and inspired by a girl behind a snack bar, he starts a journey with a belief that if he keeps walking towards Queenie, his faith will  keep her alive.

This book is his journey of initial 500 miles, which ultimately turns out to be 600 miles plus, with all the detours and wrong turns. He is an old man without proper shoes, maps or any other paraphernalia, out on a mission to save someone. As Harold continues along, he discovers how unfit he is physically, he comes across people who show him kindness and some of their belief boosts his determination. You come across him sending post cards to his wife, to Queenie and to the girl at the snack bar. Once he overcomes his physical challenges and his body becomes attuned to his sudden strenuous regime, you as a reader will be able to feel the strength of his resolve.

At some point, reality catches up with Harold, when he suddenly finds himself popular, thanks to social-media and seems to have acquired a band wagon of followers. The book depicts the social degeneration via these followers diluting or seeming to take over Harold’s mission for fame and self satisfaction (urge to lead in some people is too strong, for them to really be followers). Harold is kind to the people but nothing deters him from his path – after all, no one else has lived his life, and cannot understand the meaning of this journey to him.

During this long arduous walk, Harold discovers himself by reminiscing his past – his estranged mother – who did not want to be a mother, his father – who turned him out at sixteen into the world, his wife – who wanted to be the world to him and judged Harold on his inability to be a good father, and his son – who Harold loves very much, but finds himself unable to express as much. Harold finds himself thinking about the past interactions with Queenie and what she did for him and how Harold let her go without even a thanks.

This is a book of self discovery and belief and spontaneity. It makes you think about the relationships you’ve let go or hurt you have harboured deep inside, without any outlet. “There were times, he saw, when not knowing was the biggest truth, and you had to stay with that.” Its heartbreaking to discover that Harold looked for his son, who had committed suicide, in every young man who was lost that he came across.


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