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 20 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 600 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.
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.
©2012 Rachel Joyce (P)2012 Random House Audio
"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." (Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank)
"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." (Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife)
"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." (Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand)
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
I have read one review making the inevitable comparison to Forrest Gump's long run, and I confess that I had made that same connection. But while we could never really access Gump's inner world during his unplanned journey, we do get to travel intimately with Harold Fry, and that makes all the difference. From the beginning, when he is moved to tears by Queenie's letter saying goodbye, we realize that there is a much deeper story here than mere sadness over an old friend's illness. There are dark, secret waters flowing through Harold's memory, and that river sweeps him onto the road of self discovery with the reader in tow. Through the author's direct and deceptively simple language we connect with Harold's character and find a much more complex person than any of his own acquaintances would have suspected.
We also encounter a wider cast of characters, some major (wife Maureen), many minor, but through these encounters we learn more about Harold, and he about himself. When he is at his most alone and despairing point, I found connection to a different Tom Hanks role - Cast Away, especially when things he held precious on his journey were lost - as Hanks lost his WIlson. I could feel his spirit draining away.
The author has created a uniquely clear-eyed tone - poignant without sentiment, tragic (in places) without melodrama, and humor without comedy. Read with utter believability by Jim Broadbent, we grow to love most of the characters, even some of the apparently insignificant ones. This is a journey in the most common sense - one footstep after another. It is not an adventure. Readers who strain for the destination, impatient for journey's end will not get it. Those who arrive with Harold will be well rewarded.
I tend to avoid stories that I know will make me cry, but this one had such a great premise that I listened to it anyway. Who hasn't taken a walk or driven down a road and felt the urge to just keep going? I know I have. This story did make me cry, as I expected it would, but it was just lighthearted and oddball enough to keep me smiling as well.
I really liked this book. It touched on so many facets of life that are so easy to push under the carpet. It examines the secrets people hold inside of them, eat them up but feel hopeless to discuss them. While being blunt and honest with the problems of the characters the story also fills you with compassion and hope. Harold and Maureen come to life and you become very close to them. You cheer Harold on - laugh at some of his encounters and shake your head at others. It is a thought provoking, tender, moving book that stays with you long after you're finished with it.
This book is one of the best books I have listened to in many years.
The entire book was wonderful but the ending was so unexpected ( Iwill say no more)
Harold Fry, the book is his story
A film about healing.
I cannot wait for the movie. If properly done it will be an award winner.
As good as any, better than most. Charming, intelligent, gentle, wide cast of a plot, superior language, psychology of characterization throughout
The whole thing is memorable. I'll point to Rex saying to Maureen," Did you think I didn't notice something was wrong?"
Life, timing, emphasis here, less there, voices of the gentle and the crude, the mature and the green
Do yourself a favor and listen attentively.
Harold's pilgrimage to Queenie is life-changing and told with unspeakable beauty and clarity. You grow to love Harold and Maureen because they are so broken like all of us. The narrator is absolutely perfect. He takes his time narrating to allow you the time to really hear the incredible descriptions of the journey and the people Harold meets along the way. Don't miss this book as it is truly wonderful.
Masterfully written and well performed. I enjoyed every minute of this book. The story unfolded like the English countryside.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I’m not, by nature, a big fan of “heartwarming” stories, but this one won me over with its simplicity and gentle humor.
Harold and Maureen Fry are a retired British couple who have spent years living in quiet unhappiness together. Between them is unresolved, un-talked-about pain concerning their son David, who became estranged from his parents in his youth (the full story doesn’t come out until close to the end of the book). One day, Harold receives a letter from an old friend named Queenie, who is dying alone of cancer. He pens a response, walks out to post it, and finds that he simply can’t. So, he keeps walking. And walking.
At first, the act just seems like the breakdown of a man who’s always believed in not making a fuss or drawing attention to himself, but can’t face the truths of his life anymore. Yet, along the way, Harold finds that the expressions of support he receives from others, however small and perhaps misplaced, leave him feeling unable to let them down. Soon, he begins to embrace his pilgrimage as something that he must do for Queenie and himself, though he doesn’t know exactly why.
Harold’s awkward, humble nature made him an appealing protagonist to me, and there’s a lot of character in Jim Broadbent’s marvelous audiobook narration. I enjoyed watching Harold discover a hitherto unknown alternate version of himself as he overcomes blisters and the need for a comfortable bed (yet without getting rid of the yachting shoes). There were also a few mildly funny scenes, such as an encounter with a “famous actor” in a restroom. I’ll admit that I feared there would be an “uplifting” ending, after he attracts fellow pilgrims and an endearing dog, but Joyce keeps the core emotions of the story genuine. The fellow pilgrims bicker and have their own problems. The dog eventually leaves. And Harold must face the bitter truths that ultimately await him: that walking won’t ease the awful ravages of cancer, nor will it fix the unfixable past. Yet, there may be, in an act of acknowledging the unspoken suffering that everyone carries around inside them, hope for a deeper healing.
I wouldn’t call this a perfect book -- there are parts that feel a little contrived, and a few maudlin moments. If fact, Joyce’s whole premise seems to rely on the couple never having sought professional counseling, which they really should have. But speaking as someone whose family endured an experience not unlike that of Harold and Maureen, what these two people were carrying inside felt real to me. Sometimes we have to break out of our lives for a while to begin to restore them.
This is a debut novel, beautifully written. Harold Fry has recently retired from a job he hated, along with his boss, for at least 20 years. He believes that he has failed at everything he’s ever done, including raising his son. His wife, Maureen, seems to agree that he’s failed at everything since she scolds him for every little thing, even the way he butters his toast. So one day he gets a letter which is from a co-worker who he hasn’t seen in 20 years, Queenie Hennessy. She is apparently dying and has written a letter to let him know that and to thank him for being kind to her at one time. Harold is immediately grief-stricken as well as feeling very guilty. He believes that while Queenie was kind to him, he failed her and let her get fired for something he had done. He sets out to send her a note that just says he’s sorry. He has on casual clothes and very casual footwear to go to the mailbox. But he keeps walking. He stops for a burger and is told by the worker there that her aunt lived and recovered from cancer because people had faith that she would. Harold decides to undertake a pilgrimage of walking 600 miles to the hospice where Queenie is dying with the idea that if he can walk that distance he’ll keep her from dying. So he starts on a two-month odyssey to reach his goal. He meets all kinds of people, some generous, some taking advantage of him. His pilgrimage becomes a celebrated cause with the newspapers getting hold of it. The results of all of this reveal his family secrets and in some ways has a very surprising result. This debut novel is already being listed as a possible Booker Prize winner, and we can expect more wonderful books from this author who seems very good at telling stories.
This was a great story. When I started it was a bit slow. Not enough of a reason given for me on why he started walking to see Queenie. It didn't seem plausible. However, I'm so glad I stuck with it. One of the best I've read this year.
I compared it to another similarly themed book, The Memory of Running. In that book a mentally slow, fat, drunk, slob (it's words, not mine) set off on his bike to reach his sister. It too was a good book that jumped from past events to present. The main character was a changed person by the end of that journey but you didn't like him much along the way.
In this story you love Harold right away. I even love the complexity of his relationship with Maureen and how the journey begins to unfold all of its layers. Harold and Maureen both are able to finally deal with the grief of losing their son and find their way back to each other.
I would definitely recommend.
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