The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
My Rating - 4 stars
Source – NetGalley
Rachel Joyce has written over twenty original plays for BBC Radio 4 and her debut novel stems from one of those plays, written in 2007, a play written for her father who was dying of cancer. Her protagonist, recently retired Harold Fry has somehow embarked on a pilgrimage for his former colleague, Queenie, who is terminally ill. One morning, whilst walking to the post box to post a letter of condolence to Queenie, he just keeps on going and decides to walk 600 miles from Devon to Berwick on Tweed hoping that she will hang on in there until he arrives.
In this modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress, the author manages to prevent the story slipping into a saccharine stupor which could alienate many readers. Whilst it hardly seems feasible that a pensioner would undertake such a daunting expedition with no preparation and just a pair of old yacht shoes, I was charmed by this unassuming gentleman and equally intrigued by his past, present and future. It’s a gentle story but it has powerful themes – love, family relationships, marital breakdown, bereavement, attitudes to the elderly, faith, materialism.
I laughed, I wept, but most importantly, Harold made me stop, catch my breath and take stock of what’s important in life. A beautifully written novel ideal for those who enjoy gentle-paced narratives which make you think.