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Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2/5)

13 Jan

If you’ve read my blog, you’ve seen the ups and downs of Book Club selections. Well, this is a down. This book club is more hit-or-miss than some other ones I’m involved in but this book was rough to get through, though the ending redeemed it a bit. Almost.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Summary from Goodreads:

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live.

I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book. It didn’t appeal to me at all and I had trouble relating to any of the characters, which made for a very forced read. I was happy when I finished it only because I could start something else. I think this book would appeal to people older than myself, maybe 40+, who have more experience with marriage and children growing up, but I’m not at a point in my life where this book appealed to me.

I thought Harold and Maureen were just a bit off. Harold didn’t seem to have any common sense at times and other moments, he would seem completely sane. Maureen admitted to talking to herself on a regular basis. I felt like they were cartoons of real people at times and it felt odd to me as a reader. I was caught between laughing and feeling bad for them at the same time and it was somewhat uncomfortable.

I liked Harold enough for the first half of the book, but I started feeling bad for him in the last bit of the book and it made me like Maureen more. I felt bad for Harold and I liked Maureen for her concern and care. I don’t think either character was likable for the entirety of the book and there are very few other characters from which to pick a favorite.

Part of why I disliked this book so much was that the characters are so far removed from myself. I’ve never lost someone close to me and I don’t know how it feels to nurse a memory for twenty years. I felt bad for them, but I couldn’t relate.

Rachel Joyce Image via The Guardian

Rachel Joyce
Image via The Guardian

I liked the ending. I thought it was fitting and brought the book together nicely. I liked that Queenie wasn’t what Harold had imagined all that time and I liked how much of a struggle he had to go through to get to her. It was appropriate and nothing felt contrived. However, I don’t think it made up for how rough it was for me to get through this book.

The middle dragged too much in my opinion. Harold was walking and meeting people and that was great, but I didn’t see where it was going. Did every person he met move him or change him? I don’t really think so. I think it could have been shortened or cut. The beginning was interesting because he was doing something so unusual and the end was interesting because there was action and resolution. But the middle? It took some effort for me to get through it.

Harold’s story was one about new beginnings, forgiveness, and thanks. He and Maureen were able to re-kindle their marriage in a way it desperately needed. They had suffered a great tragedy and it had torn them apart in a way that only something drastic could save. It’s odd that that drastic measure had to be walking across the country, but I’m glad they could reconcile. Harold had to forgive himself for the kind of father he had been. It seemed to me that he wasn’t that bad of a father, but he didn’t know how to be a great one while Maureen seemed to know what to do to be a great mother. If Maureen was a great mother and something went wrong for David, it had to be Harold’s fault. I don’t exactly agree with this, but I believe this is how Harold felt. The purpose of the whole walk was to say thank you to Queenie. She had lost her job for Harold and he’d never had the chance to say thank you, something he obviously let eat away at him for a long time. His walk was a physical act of thanks as he felt the sacrifice and toll on his body that he was going through would keep her alive and even heal her. When he arrived, he was able to thank her in person. I think arriving at his destination was a baptism for Harold that washed him free of his past guilt.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think this book was well written for its audience; I just happen to not be that audience. The book tells a very specific story that has a lot of universal appeal. Harold has regrets, as does Maureen, and wants to atone for them. That’s a universal problem. It’s a shame that this book wasn’t for me at this point in my life because I’m really unable to point to anything flawed in the story or writing style. Well, except the slow middle. That’s really all I could say against it.

This was a rough go for me because I was uninterested in the characters. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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