Looking for a quiet but heartfelt read? Look no further! 3.5/5.
The blurb: Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie–who is 600 miles away–because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die.
So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories–flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband.
Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband’s sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry uses the well-worn trope of a physical journey as a catalyst and/or framework for an internal voyage of discovery. Given the protagonist’s age and physical condition (he’s not exactly a trained hiker), his journey is understandably slow and rather ponderous, but thankfully never dull. Harold and Maureen’s story is touching, often sombre and always heartfelt. There’s no flash, bang or nail-biting tension in this book, just lots of stories about broken, fragile people. And given that, it’s surprising just how bright and hopeful the narrative is.
The hope probably comes from the fact that this is also a classic quest story and, as such, it’s a very effective one. We’re immediately on board with our hero’s mission and gladly follow him on his difficult journey, willing him to reach his goal.
Maureen and Harold are the heart of this story and they’re wonderful. I’m such a fan of books which depict characters over the age of 60 as real people with complex inner lives, and these two are great.
If that weren’t enough, I was also amused by just how many things are deeply English about this story. And I use “English” and not “British” on purpose. Read it to see what I mean 🙂
Overall: I don’t think I’ve done a good job of selling The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry to you. But if you’re looking for a character-driven, gentler read (perhaps after a string of dark thrillers), this book would be a brilliant choice.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul