I have just finished this book – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.
This book unfolds and you get to know Harold, Maureen and their son David.
Soon you realise they are in a marriage that has long since stopped functioning, and both Harold and Maureen have become empty shells of who they used to be – their lives are filled with silences and moving around inside an empty house.
Untold pain, regret held close and things gone unsaid.
No one saying anything they mean. Or meaning to say anything they say.
There is Queenie Hennessy who you are not quite sure as to where she fits in, and why Harold would decide to work 600 miles to see her – well to save her from cancer actually – why he would do something so out of character and for her, is not quite clear.
His journey starts when he receives a letter from Queenie who he has not spoken to in 20 years. Her letters tells her she has cancer and there is nothing more they can do, and thanks him for the friendship he had shown her all those years ago.
He writes a reply, sets out on foot to post the letter, and then just keeps on walking.
And carries on walking, and it becomes his purpose to get to Queenie. To save her – hundreds of miles away from where he lives in Devon, all the way up in a Hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
On foot, in just his yachting shoes – no cell phone, no wallet, no map, no idea.
He doesn’t tell his wife, he just starts walking.
A bit like where the husband goes out to the corner shop for cigarettes and never comes back.
A beautifully told story.
It is so starkly honest and strips away all of life’s complications to come back to people and how they connect with each other – and how Harold finds himself, and his life by meeting other people and realising that everyone is battling their own demons.
“From the moment I met Harold Fry, I didn’t want to leave him. Impossible to put down” (Erica Wagner The Times)
“Deploying meticulously precise and deceptively light-as-air prose, Joyce takes Harold across the bitter wastelands of regret to the sunlit uplands of emotional redemption with a clarity that is at times almost unbearably moving” (Karen Robinson The Sunday Times)
“Distinguished by remarkable confidence… Polished to perfection… Joyce’s experience as a playwright shows in her ear for dialogue and eye for character diatom – even the walk-on parts stay with you as real people. She handles her material with deceptive lightness but Harold’s journey towards a better version of himself is totemic. To read about him is to be moved to follow him” (Daily Telegraph 2012-03-10)
“This cleverly done, admirably clear-sighted novel skirts the sloughs of saccharine and whimsy, coming to an almost unbearably moving conclusion. An instant book-group classic” (Daily Mail 2012-03-23)
“A terrific book, comic and sad and very honest. Harold is a wonderfully-drawn character… his story is at the same time emotionally gruelling and yet ultimately uplifting.” (Joanne Harris)