Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Author: Rachel Joyce
Published: July 24, 2012
Genre: fiction
Hardcover: 336 pages
Source: borrowed from the library

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis (from GoodReads): 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 twenty 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 six hundred 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.

My Thoughts: After hearing so many great things about this novel, I decided that I needed to give it a shot and get my hands on copy. When I was finally able to get one through the library, I was quickly enthralled with Harold and his journey across England up to Scotland, all to say good-bye to a woman that he used to work with. Harold is a retiree, trying to figure out what to do with all of his time while living with his wife, whom he has lost connection to. They both live in the same house but have no relationship to speak of, leaving both of them feeling alone and wondering what the other one thinks about them. When Harold receives a letter that an old co-worker, Queenie Hennessey, is dying from cancer, he pens a reply and sets out to mail it, but ends up walking over 600 miles to see her in person.

The plot in this novel is unique in that it almost meanders along, just like Harold on his walk. Rachel Joyce, the first time novelist, follows Harold on his walk, but fills in his backstory along the way. She never makes it into a flashback scene, but instead weaves it into Harold's journey along the road. It takes some time for the story to develop, but it's nice that the story is never rushed. There are times when I was questioning, "What made Maureen and Harold fall in love?" I knew that Joyce would lay the answer out in time and that she really took her time to build the story.

The characters in this novel are also so well-crafted and each serves a purpose in the story. There is Harold, our main character and hero, trying to complete a simple task by simple means. There is Maureen, who must come to grips with her life and her relationship with Harold. There is Queenie, who serves as inspiration to Harold and many others, encouraging them to keep going. The girl in the garage gives Harold the encouragement he needs to complete this journey, providing him with the inspiration to start his walk. There is the young man, who shows Harold that other people are interested in his journey and that youth is great, but also proves a but shaky. They all add to the story without ever overwhelming you.

Joyce has written a great first novel and I cannot wait to see what she produces in the future. I hope that her books in the future are a bit faster paced, which was my only real complaint about the novel. If you enjoyed Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, then I think that you would also really enjoy this novel.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed! I thought this book was so charming, and then the emotional side of it walloped me.