A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise - and utterly irresistible - storyteller.
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.
This novel is the epitome of the expression "stop and smell the roses." Harold's pilgrimage is reflective, heart -breaking, and most of all about hope and faith (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
Joyce writes with precision about the changing landscape as Harold trudges his way across England. Early chapters of the book are beguiling, but a final revelation tests credulity, and the sentimental ending may be an overdose of what the Brits call 'pudding.'
Manipulative but moving, for readers who don't mind having their strings pulled.
Starred Review. Accomplished BBC playwright Joyce's debut novel is a gentle and genteel charmer, brimming with British quirkiness yet quietly haunting in its poignant and wise examination of love and devotion. Sure to become a book-club favorite.
A great novel; essential reading for fans of literary fiction.
Erica Wagner, The Times (UK)
It is a funny book, a wise book, a charming book - but never cloying. It's a book with a savage twist - and yet never seems manipulative. Perhaps because Harold himself is just wonderful... I'm telling you now: I love this book.
Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank
When it seems almost too late, Harold Fry opens his battered heart and lets the world rush in. This funny, poignant story about an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey moved and inspired me.
Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
There's tremendous heart in this debut novel by Rachel Joyce, as she probes questions that are as simple as they are profound: Can we begin to live again, and live truly, as ourselves, even in middle age, when all seems ruined? Can we believe in hope when hope seems to have abandoned us? I found myself laughing through tears, rooting for Harold at every step of his journey. I'm still rooting for him.
Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Marvelous! I held my breath at his every blister and cramp, and felt as if by turning the pages, I might help his impossible quest succeed.
Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life
The odyssey of a simple man... original, subtle and touching.
Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry takes the most ordinary and unassuming of men and turns him into a hero for us all. To go on this journey with Harold will not only break your heart, it might just also heal it.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Kathy An ordinary man's extraordinary journey The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the beautifully written story of an
ordinary man's extraordinary cross-country walk to make amends with an old
friend. During Harold's journey, I found myself wishing and praying
that Harold finds his... Read More
Rated of 5
by Emily The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry I loved this book the first time through -- the language was often eloquent, with subtle humor intertwined with profound observations on the human condition. I recommended it for my book group, so I read it again, and loved it even more. I was... Read More
Rated of 5
by Cheri Not impressed I found it very difficult to finish reading this book solely on the fact that I was bored. There was an air of predictability throughout the whole story and at many times the events that Harold would encounter were redundant. This was a book about... Read More
Rated of 5
by Becky Dodd Inspiring Journey I very much enjoyed Harold's journey. The book is well written and kept my interest throughout. The book is about the journey, not the destination. The transformation that Harold makes on this journey is heartwarming.
Rated of 5
by Rita H. (Centennial, CO) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry This is a truly excellent book. I thought it sounded rather an odd story when I first heard about it but was captivated by the end of the first chapter. There are so many excellent life messages in this book which Harold and his wife Maureen... Read More
Rated of 5
by Nancy G. (Newton, KS) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry As we enter the world of Harold Fry, we are taken down a road of self-revelation and discovery that will hold the reader in its grasp. Like the peeling of an onion, each new chapter brings us more of his story. Starting out on an unlikely journey... Read More
In Rachel Joyce's debut novel, Harold Fry sets off on what the book title refers to as an "unlikely pilgrimage"; but can his journey correctly be called a pilgrimage if it doesn't have a religious destination?
Although most of us probably think of a pilgrimage as having religious connotations, the word has its roots in the Latin peregrinus, meaning coming from foreign parts. Thus, the lead definition in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) of a pilgrim is simply "one who travels from place to place: a wanderer, a sojourner".
Many reviewers refer to Harold's journey as a quest. Is that also an accurate description?
According to the OED, a quest is a search for something - such as the quest for the Holy Grail or for the cure for cancer. On the face of it, Harold is not on a quest because he knows the name and address of his objective, so there is no searching involved; but his journey has many...
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