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610 of 627 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming, touching and engaging story
This is a delightful, poignant tale of a retired couple, Harold and Maureen, living out their days in Devon, when something happens that will change their future. And it is such a small occurrence on the face of it - a letter arrives for Harold from a former colleague of his at the brewery, Queenie Hennessy. Harold writes a reply, and he sets off down the road to post it...
Published on 5 Jan 2012 by L. H. Healy

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121 of 132 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting journey
One of the oldest kinds of story is 'the journey' - the road trip - the odyssey. Most try hard to be epic in some sense, looking for superlatives of ardour, distance or grand purpose. What makes Harold Fry's pilgrimage a worthwhile one therefore is its humble and nave intent that gives Rachel Joyce ample space to explore characters and the emotions that they...
Published on 28 Feb 2012 by bomble


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610 of 627 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming, touching and engaging story, 5 Jan 2012
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a delightful, poignant tale of a retired couple, Harold and Maureen, living out their days in Devon, when something happens that will change their future. And it is such a small occurrence on the face of it - a letter arrives for Harold from a former colleague of his at the brewery, Queenie Hennessy. Harold writes a reply, and he sets off down the road to post it. But then he continues walking. And carries on walking, and it becomes his purpose to get to Queenie, to save her, all the hundreds of miles away up in a Hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, on foot, in just his yachting shoes.

Beautifully understated, the story plays out so well, there is sadness, some very touching moments, and there is some very well-observed gentle humour too. For Harold, and for Maureen, there is the time and space to take stock and think about their lives together, their son David, and about the events in the past that have brought them to where they are now. Can things be different for them; can they heal the divide that has grown? The reader is not party to the full story until close to the end of the novel. So we can only guess at the reason behind Harold's determination, whatever the odds, to get to Queenie, though we know it's not romantic love.

There is hope despite the difficult times. There is some lovely prose as Harold recognises and admires the nature all around him. His journey becomes more than just one that concerns himself and Queenie; it grows to involve the people he meets on his way, such a variety, by and large he is enriched by his encounters and buoyed by them. He is taken into strangers' confidences, and realises that so many people, despite appearances, have this inner torment that they carry with them. There are beautiful, simple but striking insights into humans, made through Harold.

This is a gentle, touching and rewarding tale, and what a promising, engaging first novel; it's a real accomplishment. I feel sure very many readers will enjoy this.
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202 of 213 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelming, 23 Aug 2012
By 
Jade66 (Bournemouth) - See all my reviews
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I glanced at a few of the reviews before buying this book, none of them do it justice and I doubt if mine will either. This is a wonderful story that entertains and disquiets in equal measure. Ostensibly it is about a man, just retired, who sets out to walk from Devon to Berwick on Tweed after receiving a letter from an old work colleague. The colleague, Queenie, is dying of cancer. Harold pens a quick reply and sets off to post it, but somehow the posting of this letter seems inadequate. He decides instead to walk the 500 odd miles to Berwick, taking us with him.

It is clear very early on that Harold's life has been a disappointment. An inability to connect with his son, (stemming from his own neglectful childhood) has driven a stake between him and his wife, Maureen, and what was once a good marriage has deteriorated into a hopeless desert of non communication.

It is during his long walk that we discover all about Harold, and Maureen, and their son David, and all about the long held grievances and misunderstandings that have culminated in their isolation and loneliness. Sometimes these memories are extremely painful and I found myself moved beyond belief at this fictional tale.

One of the 2 star reviews on this page unbelievably states "nothing much happens". Nothing could be further from the truth. Everything happens as this endearing man struggles to make sense of his life, struggles to find hope and optimism when doors have been closed resolutely in his face, and struggles to assert his humanity on an indifferent world.

This is a story about all those things we leave unsaid, of all those regrets we fight daily to forget. Wonderful writing, clear recognizable characters, a story that won't leave you, and an examination in depth of all those weird and wonderful contradictions that make us what we are.
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315 of 337 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book, 31 Dec 2011
By 
Maggie (UK) - See all my reviews
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Be prepared to confront your personal demons when you read this book. For the mature reader in particular, I challenge you not to find something in this novel to make you at the least uneasy. It is ultimately an uplifting story, but along the way there is a great deal of pain and for many there will be uncomfortable home truths about things that we could have handled better, regrets about slipping into complacency and about the loss of passion. There is the terrible pain caused by the loss of a child; the guilt engendered by failure to appreciate and help a friend; the estrangement of a once-loving couple - and the knowledge that many of these things cannot be put right however much you want to.

Harold's walk is the vehicle for exploring these ideas and more. A very ordinary and unassuming man, not in any sense a hero, Harold's whim to walk to Berwick on Tweed to see a dying friend and by so doing to save her from cancer, provides the author with the opportunity to weave in the stories of many other people who, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, are living "lives of quiet desperation". The people he meets on his journey are often kind and generous but many are battling their own demons. At one point the simple pilgrimage that Harold has unwittingly created clashes with our modern world of celebrity - represented by the PR men and tabloid journalists - and you pray for Harold to escape all this and revert to his simple goal.

In the end Harold and his wife Maureen - a somewhat stereotypical middle-aged woman with net curtains and a clipped way of speaking that discourages anything unconventional - do find resolution and redemption. To say more would spoil the story. Do read it - it will make you laugh and cry but it will not leave you untouched.
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121 of 132 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting journey, 28 Feb 2012
By 
bomble "bomble" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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One of the oldest kinds of story is 'the journey' - the road trip - the odyssey. Most try hard to be epic in some sense, looking for superlatives of ardour, distance or grand purpose. What makes Harold Fry's pilgrimage a worthwhile one therefore is its humble and nave intent that gives Rachel Joyce ample space to explore characters and the emotions that they experience.

The bare bones of the story wouldn't fill more than a couple of pages, but Joyce has given life to her characters both in their past and present circumstances, making this book a lot more substantial. That said it comes as no surprise that she has honed her skills for the medium of Radio 4 afternoon plays as you could assume that she is writing for much the same cross-section of the population. There are some more 'sensitive' passages and the occasional profanity but you basically get the feeling that this is a book for the middle ground and unashamedly so.

Joyce's style is highly readable and it didn't take long to finish. She builds her characters in layers from the outside in as you gradually come to know their deeper thoughts, their joys and their sorrows. And it would be fair to say that I enjoyed the walk in Harold's shoes.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JUST BEAUTIFUL, 7 Feb 2013
By 
Alan J. Crowley (Binley, Coventry) - See all my reviews
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For once, the professional reviewers have this book dead to rights. Moving, poignant, uplifting, heart-breaking, with wonderfully descriptive accounts of England and it's inhabitants, this is a magnificent book. Twice it moved me to tears. I was in the works canteen on both occasions, which was a little embarrassing, but, following Harold's philosophy, who cares?
I finished reading this book yesterday evening, and afterwards made sure I gave my wife of 36 years and my 25 year old son an extra big good-night hug and kiss. Read it, you must.
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71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a wonderful book, 22 Dec 2011
By 
C. Bones "surreyman" - See all my reviews
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I think this amazing debut novel could be as successful in 2012 as David Nicholls' One Day was in 2011. I don't mean that they are similar novels but they both offer that same blend of humour, wisdom and heart tugging pathos. And yet for about 50 pages I wasn't sure. Harold had set off on his journey and I started to wonder whether he was just a bit simple minded and unlikely to be an interesting companion over 300 pages. How wrong I was ! By the end I was in tears.

This is a story that develops in unexpected ways. It is by no means just the simple and charming tale that you may expect. Rachel Joyce starts by writing about her characters in a stripped down way that makes them very ordinary indeed. It appears that there are no heroes here. Just very ordinary people who on the whole fail to deal very well with life's tough knocks. And from this unpromising beginning she slowly start to weave her magic.

So what is it about ? Well, everything really, the whole of life. Its certainly about what love can achieve and its most definitely about what a lack of love can achieve. Its also about faith but not faith as you know it. This is not a story where anyone has any blazing convictions or sudden revelations. This is the sort of faith which starts off in misguided ways, humans stumbling along (literally in Harold's case) in a generally confused way and from this mixture of good and daft intentions a small light may start to flicker. And did I say that Ms Joyce writes like a dream? Well she does. How on earth can you produce a first book that is this well written ?

But my tip to would-be readers is to try and avoid too many reviews. As I said earlier this is a story that unfolds in unexpected ways and the last thing you want is learn anything too soon. Not only is the author a great writer but she doesn't put a foot wrong in the pacing and structure of her story. Just buy it. Just read it !
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Felt like walking into the unknown myself after reading this..., 20 July 2013
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Maybe the biggest allure to this book for me is that it incorporates my own definition of freedom: to be able to go or stay, no matter where, and why and to let other people do the same. As I read "TUPOHF" I repeatedly felt like just doing that. I felt like not going to work and instead going onto a pilgrimage of my own. To leave London and to actually discover the world on foot and to go wherever my fancy would take me. But then again I always romanticised about stories of pilgrims or vagrants like the one in Erich Kästner's "Rasmus and the vagrant". Rachel Joyce's book is very well written and touching. I think I also related to it a lot because I left my twin in another country the way Harold left his wife at home. And there are loads of parallels I could draw from this book to my personal life. It definitely is worth a read and I hope it will elicit a sense of longing in many more readers than myself.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and emotional, 25 Jan 2013
By 
Macey89 - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry (Paperback)
Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is beautiful and simple, yet at the same time it's is packed with emotion, self-doubt and heartache that's sure to hit a nerve with every reader.

It begins when Harold Fry receives a letter from an old colleague and friend informing him that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. What starts as a trip to the nearest post-box to send a letter expressing his condolences turns into an epic journey across the country. Without a map, a change of clothes or a mobile phone Harold's walk is dependent completely on his instincts, the kindness of strangers and the strength of his belief in the fact that if he keeps on walking, Queenie will keep on living.

Harold's walk seems so simple on the outside. As he describes it, it's just putting one foot in front of the other. But as he attempts to walks from Cornwall to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Harold is forced to confront the tragedies of his past, his estrangement from his wife and growing detachment from the world.

Left behind, his wife Maureen is also battling her own demons as she struggles with feelings of repressed loss and anger. Harold's walk and the space left by his absence, prompts her own personal journey.

The bit I loved most about this book was how the two central characters somehow, against the backdrop of everything that's happened in their lives, managed to find a way to rediscover their love for each other. It's an intense and emotional read and it really drives home the fact that it's never too late to change.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sweet and charming but not without faults, 12 Aug 2012
By 
R. A. Davison (UK) - See all my reviews
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The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce was originally born out of a BBC Radio Play, and now finds itself on the Booker Prize longlist for 2012, something which created some media surprise when it was announced.

Harold Fry is a sweet portrait of a man who has lived by all appearances an ordinary and mundane existence, who receives a letter from a dying friend; setting out to post his response he finds he cannot stop walking and eventually resolves to walk all the way to visit his old colleague Queenie Hennessy. It is not however, a short journey for Harold lives in Dorset and Queenie in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Quite why Queenie is so important is revealed slowly over the course of the novel, which is by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking. The style of prose has a fable like quality to it, and though the story packs a emotional punch with its terribly human psychology and identifiable feelings, the actual writing is fundamentally simplistic, making me wonder whether it is worthy of the Booker accolade, and certainly of winning it, though it is a nice nod to a sweet book.

I found the section where other people join in Harold's mission and hijack it for their own purposes really quite annoying, I have seen it done as a device in other novels which involve a mission or a cause and find it irritating. Essentially it's like the section in Forrest Gump when he runs on his own for ages. And that's the problem, this phenomena is quite un-British, and quite cheesily American, which is something that Harold Fry overall is not, Harold and his wife Maureen being quite quintessentially British which is the novel's central charm.

Though Harold's eventual reunion with Queenie is what I had expected all along, the novel is as with life about the journey not the destination. The end of the novel is incredibly touching, and you must have a heart of stone if you are not moved by the revelation towards the novel's close. 7/10
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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Watering Eyes, Weak Knees and a Heavy Heart, 28 Nov 2012
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Quite simply, this is the most moving piece of fiction I've ever read, and it sets a true five-star standard. Harold Fry surprises himself and his unloving wife by walking the length of England in an accidental quest to make good the mistakes and missed opportunities of his life. In heading north from Devon, he trudges back through his own life story bumping into various ghosts from his past en route. It's a journey of self-rediscovery for Harold, for his wife, and also for the reader, because Harold's troubles are all our troubles, and the closer the you are to Harold's life stage, then the harder the pilgrimage will hit you. It's impossible to follow Harold's route without watering eyes, weak knees, a heavy heart and an occasional smile.
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The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Paperback - 2 Jan 2013)
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