Excerpt from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A Novel

by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2012, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2013, 368 pages

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“I’m only going to the end of the road.”

She kept on looking up at him, with her moss-green eyes and her fragile chin, and he wished he knew what to say but he didn’t; at least not in a way that would make any difference. He longed to touch her like in the old days, to lower his head on her shoulder and rest there. “Cheerio, Maureen.” He shut the front door between them, taking care not to let it slam.

Built on a hill above Kingsbridge, the houses of Fossebridge Road enjoyed what estate agents called an elevated position, with far-reaching views over the town and countryside. Their front gardens, however, sloped at a precarious angle toward the pavement below, and plants wrapped themselves round bamboo stakes as if hanging on for dear life. Harold strode down the steep concrete path a little faster than he might have wished and noticed five new dandelions. Maybe this afternoon he would get out the Roundup. It would be something.

Spotting Harold, the next-door neighbor waved and steered his way toward the adjoining fence. Rex was a short man with tidy feet at the bottom, a small head at the top, and a very round body in the middle, causing Harold to fear sometimes that if he fell there would be no stopping him. He would roll down the hill like a barrel. Rex had been widowed six months ago, at about the time of Harold’s retirement. Since Elizabeth’s death, he liked to talk about how hard life was. He liked to talk about it at great length. “The least you can do is listen,” Maureen said, although Harold wasn’t sure if she meant “you” in the general sense or the particular.

“Off for a walk?” said Rex.

Harold attempted a jocular tone that would act, he hoped, as an intimation that now was not the time to stop. “Need anything posted, old chap?”

“Nobody writes to me. Since Elizabeth passed away, I only get circulars.”

Rex gazed into the middle distance and Harold recognized at once the direction the conversation was heading. He threw a look upward; puffs of cloud sat on a tissue-paper sky. “Jolly nice day.”

“Jolly nice,” said Rex. There was a pause and Rex poured a sigh into it. “Elizabeth liked the sun.” Another pause.

“Good day for mowing, Rex.”

“Very good, Harold. Do you compost your grass cuttings? Or do you mulch?”

“I find mulching leaves a mess that sticks to my feet. Maureen doesn’t like it when I tread things into the house.” Harold glanced at his yachting shoes and wondered why people wore them when they had no intention of sailing. “Well. Must get on. Catch the midday collection.” Wagging his envelope, Harold turned toward the pavement.

For the first time in his life, it was a disappointment to find that the postbox cropped up sooner than expected. Harold tried to cross the road to avoid it, but there it was, waiting for him on the corner of Fossebridge Road. He lifted his letter for Queenie to the slot, and stopped. He looked back at the short distance his feet had traveled.

The detached houses were stuccoed and washed in shades of yellow, salmon, and blue. Some still had their pointed fifties roofs with decorative beams in the shape of a half sun; others had slate-clad loft extensions; one had been completely rebuilt in the style of a Swiss chalet. Harold and Maureen had moved here forty-five years ago, just after they were married. It took all his savings to pay the deposit; there had been nothing left for curtains or furniture. They had kept themselves apart from others, and over time neighbors had come and gone, while only Harold and Maureen remained. There had once been vegetable beds, and an ornamental pond. She made chutneys every summer, and David kept goldfish. Behind the house there had been a potting shed that smelled of fertilizer, with high hooks for hanging tools, and coils of twine and rope. But these things too were long since gone. Even their son’s school, which had stood a stone’s throw from his bedroom window, was bulldozed now and replaced with fifty affordable homes in bright primary colors and street lighting in the style of Georgian gas lamps.

Excerpted from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Copyright © 2012 by Rachel Joyce. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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