The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Oh my, what a lovely, lovely novel!
Retired Harold Fry receives a letter from an old work colleague, Queenie, informing him that she has terminal cancer. He writes a quick note of sympathy, and while his wife Maureen furiously cleans the house from top to bottom, he pops out to the nearest postbox to post the letter. Except, he doesn't. Instead, he decides to deliver it in person. But he lives on the South Coast, and Queenie is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. But Harold feels that as long as he keeps walking, she will keep living. So that's what he does. He just keeps walking.
Along the way, he has ample time to reflect on his life - his failures (as he sees it) as a husband and father - and he meets lots of characters to whom he lends a friendly, listening ear. He realises that there are people just like him, everywhere - on the outside they appear 'normal' and do normal, everyday things, and no one ever knows what kind of turmoil they might be going through on the inside.
"He understood that in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others".
Meanwhile, Harold keeps Maureen updated on his walk. At first, angry, embarassed and confused, her enforced solitude eventually gives Maureen the opportunity to reflect on her own conduct as a wife and mother. Her gradual understanding and acceptance of Harold's journey, and the way her anger and bitterness gives way to support and forgiveness, was incredibly moving.
For most of the journey, Harold walks alone, but inevitably the media get involved, which is where his walk becomes a 'pilgrimage'. He is never comfortable with this, and this reader shared Harold's relief when he finally slipped away from the crowd of 'followers'. (I didn't mind the dog though).
There was a twist towards the end of the book that I didn't see coming, but perhaps I should've done. The last few chapters were sad, poignant and yet uplifting as well. I absolutely loved this book, and it will stay with me for a very long time.
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