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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel | [Rachel Joyce]

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel

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 is a letter addressed to Harold 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 Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Why we think it's Essential - Why did I love this book so much? The answer to that question is as complicated as trying to explain why you love a particular person. Because that’s what this book is – an entire life encapsulated and explored through the thoughts and encounters of a man on an unexpected journey. The story slowly grows and unfolds until the full picture is before you – blooming and beautiful and completely irreplaceable. Jim Broadbent’s narration is so utterly real it breaks your heart. — Emily

Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (3889 )
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  •  
    FanB14 07-01-13
    FanB14 07-01-13

    Short, Simple, No Spoilers

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wonderful Walkabout"

    This is a lovely tale of an ordinary man setting off on a pilgrimage to visit an old friend who is dying. Harold believes as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live. Without proper shoes, a map, or any plausible plan, he embarks on this journey. In a rut for the past 20 years, Harold is like a hamster jumping off the wheel, taking a new direction. He searches the recesses of his mind exploring his passionless marriage; history with his son; and his relationship with Queenie. Along the way, he encounters numerous people who both help and exploit his trek. Nothing is obvious or predictable.

    You'll want to take your time with this one to appreciate the language and turn of phrase. One of my many favorite parts was the line, "Harold stopped measuring his journey in miles, but in remembering." The entire book was simply lovely and causes a bit of soul searching for the reader. Didn't rush through this one, savored all the text, and am a little wiser from the listening.

    70 of 74 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 07-26-12
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 07-26-12

    "... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "To Be A Pilgrim!"

    "...and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." - Hebrews 11:13

    This novel reads like an inverted bildungsroman. It is a novel about the pilgrimages we all must take later in life and the penance that we all must finally pay. That indeed sounds like a dreary novel, but with Joyce's talent for prose and pacing this novel absolutely flows with funky characters and breathes with a gentle humor. For me, it was like I was reading a great novel by Peter Carey, or David Mitchell or Brady Udall. Those are the peers that she belongs with. The story of Harold Fry's pilgrimage is beautiful and the characters are vivid. Ultimately the book, like a soft hymn sings that we are all important to the people we come in contact with, no matter how simple and ordinary we may at first appear.

    Jim Broadbent reads this novel with a nuance, liveliness, and sensitivity that one rarely find outside the theatre. One of the best narrations I've EVER listened to.


    93 of 106 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathleen Minneapolis, MN, USA 09-29-12
    Kathleen Minneapolis, MN, USA 09-29-12 Member Since 2014
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    "beautifully written debut novel."

    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.

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 08-31-13
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 08-31-13 Member Since 2015

    I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

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    "Give it time to get going"

    After the first chapter I really did not expect to like this book. The writing was simple, straightforward British with limited vocabulary and somewhat restrained characters, such is not generally my cup of tea. Yet the more I listened the more I wanted to go on.

    Very slowly the proverbial stiff upper lip becomes lost in a journey of self revelation. While remaining very ordinary, the story becomes extraordinary. This does not wallow in faith or religion, instead it examines memory and the stories we tell ourselves and those we don’t.

    By the end I laughed and teared up several times. The end of the story stuck with me and for the next day or two I wished I was still reading this story. The narration was excellent, imbibing a lot of emotion into the story. I have not set in the car to finish a chapter in a long time, but I did that a couple of times with this book. Highly recommended.

    23 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B.J. Minneapolis, MN, United States 10-22-12
    B.J. Minneapolis, MN, United States 10-22-12 Member Since 2010

    I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "An Unexpected Treasure."

    I didn't expect what this book delivered. I thought it would be syrupy, preachy and maudlin - three of my least favorite attributes in a book. Because a few reviewers I follow recommended it, I bought it. I was engaged in the story in less than 5 minutes and found none of the treacle I dreaded.

    This isn't a big book, but it certainly covers a lot of territory. I was taken with the way some age-old themes - like forgiveness and grief - were merged with such of-the-moment issues like social networking and a fickle society searching for the next new thing.

    This story has authenticity and heart. It avoided the cliches that might have sunk it and emerged a real winner. I love the character of Harold Fry - partly because of how he was written and in equal measure because of the spot-on narration.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 06-05-13
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 06-05-13 Member Since 2006

    Addicted to Audible!

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    "My favorite book of 2013 so far!"

    I first read this book several months ago and fell in love with it. I talked my bookclub into reading it and decided to try the audio version since I didnt have time to reread. I was enchanted with the audioversion, the reader is absolutely the perfect HAROLD!!! The story unfolds slowly just like Harold's walk was painstakingly slow. Each encounter Harold has with the random strangers he meets, changes him and awakens his awareness about his life, his relationships, his mistakes and finally he finds his redemption. I have highly recommended this book to my friends and most have enjoyed it as much as I did. I think it's one of my favorites of the year!

    30 of 35 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Utah 03-15-13
    Amazon Customer Utah 03-15-13 Member Since 2015

    tired teacher

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    "A Great Story!"

    What a delightful surprise to run onto this book! It will always be one of my favorites.

    As Harold sets out on a walk of 600 miles to visit an old friend who is dying, he is totally unaware of what this journey will teach him about himself, his relationship with his friend and with is wife and son. It is a bittersweet story, but a story about personal growth, even late in life. I adore it. It is the kind of book I hope for every time I start a new one, but rarely find. I put it up there with "Water for Elephants."

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin 03-05-13
    Robin 03-05-13

    Hi all. I'm in my 50's (that's relevant, i think), and I favor fiction. I like the british sensibility, and was introduced to the Forsyte Saga through audible ... loved it! I happen to also like Chinese writers, but they are not well represented yet at audible. Looking to follow readers with similar tastes ...

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "enjoyed the first 75% of the book"

    i realize i am in the minority here, but i would not give this book 5 stars. the first 3/4 of the book was very good ... insightful, sweet and paced just right. i can't say the same for the last part. i wouldn't characterize mr. fry's walk as a spiritual journey, as some seem to ... i'd say more an education in human nature and self awareness. the narration is excellent.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan Eau Claire, WI, United States 07-30-12
    Susan Eau Claire, WI, United States 07-30-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Breaks Your Heart In All The Best Ways - Must Read"
    Would you listen to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry again? Why?

    Yes. 'The Pilgrimage' is fiction at its best: everything about the characters and story connects and rings true. The language is lyrical but never flowery or sentimental.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The story could not exist without each and every character - no particular favorite.


    What about Jim Broadbent’s performance did you like?

    His narration is flawless. Broadbent has the chops and humility to keep it simple at let the story shine.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I can't remember the last time a book (or movie) made me cry but this story elicited a surge of joy, gratitude, and amazement at the goodness that comes from 'little lives' well lived. I listened to the penultimate section standing completely still at the kitchen counter. The language so beautiful, so perfect - literally stopped me in my tracks.


    Any additional comments?

    I am normally quite careful to avoid selections that may be sad or maudlin since I skew a bit melancholy anyway ( I shall NEVER EVER read 'Marley and Me', for example) but this book broke my heart in the best possible way. Each character displays nobility and frailty while their story is told. The plot itself is intriguing as each character's perceptions bring more understanding to "the facts." Granted, I am writing this while still under the spell of the book, but I loved 'The Pilgrimage' as much as the book of Chekhov's short stories I've been reading this summer. I highly recommend this title for one and all.

    34 of 40 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mel USA 08-05-12
    Mel USA 08-05-12 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    ""An Ordinary Man Doing Something Extraordinary..."

    in an ordinary way."
    ...so Joyce describes her own book, a story she was originally writting for a BBC radio broadcast, while experiencing her own father suffering from cancer. [And in about a month from this review, the author will find out whether or not Harold Fry will continue his journey from the Man Booker long 12 to the Man Booker Short List.] Joyce obviously is a very talented writer. She has a sparse style and the ability to write descriptive and poetic sentences with simple ordinary words that have an almost child-like purity. Whether or not the book is short-listed, I expect to see many beautiful reads from this new author.

    "It seemed to Harold that he had been waiting all his life to walk. He no longer knew how far he had come, but only that he was going forward."

    As reviewers have said, this is beautifuly written and the journey the listener embarks on with the very buttoned-up Harold is both heart warming and heart wrenching. I see the brilliance in Harold Fry, but have to admit it wasn't one that I couldn't wait to get back to each time I had to pause; I didn't look forward to continuing the journey--it was somber. But, maybe that was the brilliance -- that it made me feel so sad and ache-y inside, so much like Harold. The characters that join in the pilgrimage add some levity, but seem to serve more as vehicles just to move along Harold's melancholic reminiscing. I'm glad I finished and I recommend, but this isn't a story for everyone. I couldn't help but be moved by "Night Music's" review; she mentioned that she was an elderly woman and found that "looking back can be very disheartening," and she couldn't finish listening. I wish I could tell her to continue the journey--there is redemption. Towards the end, Harold questions whether his journey was just folley and gets this simply put lovely reply,

    "You got up and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don't even know if you can get there isn't a small miracle; then I don't know what is."

    Lovely and bittersweet; not ordinary at all.


    45 of 54 people found this review helpful
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