Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Book review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Last week I ran into a friend at the library "Books to Go -- One Week Loan" shelf. We were both looking for a good read, and each of us found a book that we knew and recommended to the other, but I think Barb made the better recommendation. I took home Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Random House 2012, ISBN 987-0-385-67769-1) and dove into an amazing, believable piece of fiction.
Harold Fry is a retired brewery employee with a failing marriage and few friends. When he receives an unexpected letter from a friend, hewrites a hasty reply, and heads for the mailbox. And so begins a most unlikely pilgrimage, one that is full of poignant moments that reveal the difficult beauty of life and the ordinary extraordinariness of strangers as friends yet to be met.
Harold leaves home in his regular garb and yachting shoes (which create painful blisters in short order), but when he reaches his usual mailbox, the beauty of the day leads him to decide to walk a little further to the next one. As he walks, he thinks about his friend, whom he hasn't seen in 20 years, and somehow comes to the decision that he needs to walk all the way to the hospice where she's living her final days because somehow that will save her. That wouldn't be a big deal except the hospice is some 500 km to the north.
Harold's magical thinking, his reflections on his past, and his encounters with strangers (not to mention the media) make for an entertaining and thought-provoking read. Rachel Joyce's narrative pulls the reader along the highways and byways of England, where, with Harold, we meet a group of cycling mothers, a Slovakian doctor, a very famous actor, a journalist, a man in a gorilla suit, and so many others who come and go from Harold's life and leave him with very human and often very moving or unnerving stories that have him "trying to find a place within himself in which to keep [them]" (p.171). The pilgrimage transforms Harold and his wife Maureen in unexpected ways, and the reader is left with the sense that life is miraculous, that love is essential, and that even when prospects look dim, hope is somehow always there to carry us forward.
So, next time you run into me at the One Week Loan shelf, I know exactly what I'll put into your hands. Or if you aren't likely to run into me, you might like to sign out a copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry for yourself.