Harold Fry receives a letter from an old coworker informing him that she is dying. Despite not having spoken with Queenie Hennessy for 20 years, Harold is so moved by the letter that he finds himself walking to her in an unlikely pilgrimage. He chats with a girl at a garage who plants the seed of faith in Harold, causing him to believe that if he walks across the country of England to her hospice that Queenie won’t die.
His pilgrimage takes him on an extraordinary journey that tests his faith not only in higher powers but also in himself. Long days of a walking alone leave Harold very introspective, examining his life to date and remembering the mistakes he has made. Harold’s sheer kindness affects the many strangers he meets on his pilgrimage, but it’s his absence from his wife Maureen that has the biggest impact.
Left alone, Maureen begins to doubt her life with Harold. She, too, remembers the past and the drama surrounding Queenie’s abrupt exit from Harold’s life and the effects of their son’s tumultuous life on their own marriage. Although Harold began his pilgrimage for Queenie, his walk ends up having a more profound effect on his marriage with Maureen.
Despite passages of overindulgent optimism, Rachel Joyce has crafted an uplifting tale about overcoming grief and regret. As a reader, you’ll be cheering Harold along on his journey. His moments of doubt, when he feels ready to quit the pilgrimage, will have you questioning your own opinions about faith and its power.
Much of the first half of the book drags, but once you get inside the mind of the characters, it becomes a more engaging novel. Although it is easy to foresee the plot twists that Joyce throws out in the end, when the secrets come spilling out, the book is more about the journey than the destination. And Harold’s journey is packed with a powerful message for the sentimentalist in every reader.
- Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (readingandwritingcafe.wordpress.com)
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Review (zaraalexis.wordpress.com)
- An ‘Unlikely Pilgrimage’ Toward Happiness (npr.org)
- Books of The Times: ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,’ by Rachel Joyce (nytimes.com)