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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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

Overall

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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    3,570
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    2,318
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    826
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    168
  • 1 Stars
    108

Performance

  • 4.6 out of 5.0
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    1,566
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    421
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    62
  • 1 Stars
    50

Story

  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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  • 3 Stars
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    198
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  • Story
  • Kathy
  • KINGSPORT, TN, United States
  • 09-24-13

An unlikely likable book

A touching story about a long marriage that speaks to all marriages at one time or another. Worth a listen. A great first book.

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  • Rebecca
  • Plainfield, VT, United States
  • 09-22-13

Hiding behind the ordinary things

This is a lovely book on many levels. Harold Fry is an ordinary man, with an ordinary life. Hardly interesting, hardly worthy of a second glance. Then one day he embarks on a journey to see an old friend, and in the process he embarks on a journey that helps him begin to find himself again. We all have complex histories, moments of triumph, moments of extreme pain and sorrow. We are none of us as we appear on the surface. Sometimes we hide behind the ordinary things in life because remembering who we are, and the losses we have experienced is just too painful. However, it is also a story about how human spirit and love can triumph over adversity. This is a lovely story, and a reminder that there is more to every one than meets the eye, and that love, compassion and small acts of kindness can make all the difference. Beautiful.

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  • Story

Surprising take on life changes

Any additional comments?

I enjoyed this precisely because it did not take the tried and true path of mid-life crises. I became more and more understanding of Harold and what makes him tick as the book progressed. The turns of thought between the characters were surprising yet always believable, as, with most of life, once you understand the "stories behind the stories" you become accepting and compassionate for many of life's characters. One of my favorite lines from the book was a reference to meeting a man with no front teeth and quite simply misjudging him because of this. No further comment needed, and no further comment offered, as clearly we all "get" the reality of not only the comment but the irrational foundation for judgment. You will enjoy seeing life through Harold Fry's eyes.

  • Overall
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Slow read - but somewhat interesting idea

Would you try another book from Rachel Joyce and/or Jim Broadbent?

Yes

Have you listened to any of Jim Broadbent’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Yes. Although there is no "action" per se, the idea of the dedication to his task, in the face of physical problems, makes it worth reading, (as a filler). I was highly disappointed however-several chapters in-to suddenly be assaulted by profanity and abundant use of the "F" word, in the extreme! I wish there was a rating so that I could make my purchase/choice based upon such things. There are too many books out there to waste my time and money, on something that includes personal dislikes. Without the profanity, I would give this four stars.

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  • Alison
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 09-04-13

Dissenting Opinion

While the story was well written and the narration very good, I find I actually hated it. The story was sad, and quite awful in places and it was a chore to finish it. I know I am a dissenting opinion and it appears most people enjoyed this book. I just can't recommend it.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Absolutely superb!

What did you love best about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry?

What other book might you compare The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry to and why?

Have you listened to any of Jim Broadbent’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Any additional comments?

This story is beautifully crafted and told. The characters are so real, I feel as if I know them personally and the story is utterly believable. It is a worthy study of the human character, flaws and all. I strongly recommend it.

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  • Dotty
  • CLOVIS, CA, United States
  • 08-16-13

Rather charming

Not quite a humor book, not quite a romance, not quite a mystery, but a little of all of that.
Pretty good.

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The Unlikely Book That Blew Me Away

This story moved me beyond expectation. I was completely unprepared for how it snuck up on me. I wish I could write a review that would do it justice. Just go read it.

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  • Jeff
  • Pickering, Ontario, Canada
  • 08-05-13

UNIQUE, ORIGINAL AND UNSPARING STORY

I would be willing to bet that quite a few readers never finished Harold fry`s pilgrimage. This is a challenging read. Challenging in its unsparing deppresiveness. I've found there are a large segment of readers that dismiss books (and movies for that matter) that contain a depressing story line and some that are repelled by mere elements that are depressing in a story. On the one hand I can fully appreciate this sensitivity and respect it. On the other hand it is very unfortunate especially for those who cannot stand to read or watch a story that just has a depressing element. Most of the best lit and movies contain depressing elements which means those people miss out on a huge slice of art and in extrapolation-life.Too bad, so sad, but I do understand.

If you fit in the above description don't even enter the same room as this book because it's pretty relentless in its depresivnes. There certainly are times when I'm not up to such a book, For instance - In the last few years I've found it very, very difficult to look into anything regarding the holocaust , despite having read my fill in earlier years, I'm sure becoming a father of 2 has a lot to do with it. Becoming a parent changes your perspective and sensitivities on everything. When I think of reviewing this book I get the image of a bomb blast having just gone off- my ears are ringing and the smoke is just starting to clear. That's easy enough a vision to decipher. Its in this moment's reflection that I realize how deceivingly overwhelming The book really was and while I can see the main elements I feel the smoke has to clear, or my emotions need to settle down in order to really appraise this with any depth.

.That this book has had that much effect on me may be sufficient on one level to give it a qualified thumbs up. Though It's one thing for a story to be bittersweet and another to just be a bitter bummer with nothing to redeem it. I know this book has great and original insight and there are elements that are refreshingly honest and real but how those will taste after this acrid smoke clears and my ears stop ringing remains to be seen-no- its IF the smoke clears and my ears stop ringing. Will the depressive elements subside enough for me to extract and enjoy the pathos and bittersweet elements in this story? aha! thats the question in my mind.

The one thing I can say without giving any of the story away is that the author has written a book that took balls to write and get published. In our times of rehashed trash and formulaic fare this is a fairly rare entry and it is refreshing to know that such a challenging book will still get published AND be widely read. There are elements of this story I would love to talk about but that's not possible without giving things away. Its times like this that I wish I could give 2 reviews- In this case a review perhaps 6 months from now as well would be fit = once Ive emotionally and psychologically digested this very HEAVY fare. Narration- I cant imagine anyone else but Jim Broadbent narrating this book, he's a perfect match!


  • Overall
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Uplifting

If you could sum up The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry in three words, what would they be?

Compassionate, uplifting, meaningful.

What did you like best about this story?

I liked the way I felt reading the book. It gave me inspiration to be kind to strangers.