658 of 677 people found the following review helpful
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.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
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.
243 of 255 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 2012
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.
326 of 348 people found the following review helpful
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.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Gosh, this book irritated me. Clearly I have no heart, but I simply don't understand the rave reviews, the Booker Prize nomination, nor the recommendations from a friend who told me it was one of her favourite books from last year. I. Don't. Get. It. It's saccharine sweet, knowingly quirky and then it heaps on a surprise reveal for a tearjerker ending that felt manipulative in the extreme.
Harold Fry is 65 and retired. He lives in Devon in England's south-west with Maureen, his wife of 45 years. The marriage is not terribly happy; they co-exist, but that's about it. One day he gets a letter from a former colleague whom he has not seen or talked to in many, many years. Queenie is writing to tell him that she has terminal cancer. Harold writes a letter in reply, goes out to post it and then spontaneously decides to walk to Queenie, (a journey of 627 miles). Between numerous references to blisters and his inappropriate boat shoes (which he will stubbornly refuse to replace), there are numerous encounters with an array of quirky characters who it would seem are desperate to unburden themselves on a stranger. Along the way he thinks a great deal about his upbringing, his relationship with his wife and his troubled relationship with his son. I wanted to shout at him to stop being such a martyr and I also wanted to slap almost every person that he met along the way.
This reminds me of books like Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, with its conviction that England is populated with nothing but endearing eccentrics. Even the whimsical chapter names "Harold and the Hiking Man and the Woman who Loved Jane Austen" or "Harold and the Barman and the Woman with Food" had me wanting to beat the book against a wall, screaming. To ram home the cutesy factor, each jolly little chapter title is accompanied by a playfully quaint illustration of a hedgehog or a pansy or a crow. So lovable!
In case you have written me off by now as a cold-hearted monster, I must point out that the central message didn't escape my notice - how could it, being laid on like a trowel? Harold realises that "in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others" - meaning that he doggedly thinks the best of every moron who crosses his path. And yes, I was moved by the revelation near the book's conclusion. Hence my generosity in doubling my star rating. Actually that's a little unfair - it's not totally awful. It's an easy read, mercifully short and if you're less hard-hearted that me, you may even like it.
127 of 139 people found the following review helpful
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 naïve 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.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
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
73 of 80 people found the following review helpful
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 !
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2014
I am sorry to say that I left Harold to reach journey’s end without me, I got so bored.
This is a road trip in the ilk of “The One Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared”. I dare say that if you like the latter and indeed any story of sweet little old men running around the countryside, then you will probably enjoy Harold Fry. To my mind any book title that reads like a Tweet is to be avoided.
This is a twee little story about a retiree who decides to walk from Devon to Berwick upon Tweed to help a Friend (who once did him a Good Deed) in Urgent Need. Despite the fact that the friend is at death’s door, Harold eschews the car and even avoids the bus, opting instead to go on foot (in his plimsolls). Cue a series of Little Adventures as Harold meets Many Interesting People Along The Way. This handy device saves the author from worrying about any form of character development as each character has A Story To Tell.
This is “The Incredible Journey” meets “Worzel Gummidge”. Some people will like its simple style but for me it was just simplistic.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Without doubt this is the most refreshing, uplifting and exciting new novel. So far Rachel Joyce been busy writing plays for Radio 4. You know the ones that stop you in your daily task, that have you weeping with understanding and poignant sadness, in the early afternoon. The Unlikely Pilgrimage sprang from such a source.
I travelled companionably with courteous, self effacing, resourceful Harold Fry, more in hope than expectation; up through England from Devon, aiming for north of the border. There lies poor Queenie, a friend from his working days, a lady who he once had to drive from place to place. She was a good friend and looked out for Harold, eventually to her cost. Her cancer is terminal, her letter short but gripping, Harold feels drawn to visit her, to try to save her. All on a whim but one you feel anyone could be caught up by. The idea that somehow you can thwart fate by believing in a goal and stubbornly sticking to it. No careless or selfish hero is Harold, he maintains his links with home and gives himself no quarter or relief. His forty year old marriage has sadly turned sour, his son David appears an enigma, his wife closed in to her world of cleaning, tidying and shutting him out of her heart. She can't stop herself behaving this way although she recognises what she is doing. In the spirit of something must change the book takes off when, 'We all sit down far more than are meant to' Harold decides, and so along the road we go, gathering skills, experience and memories along the way.
Not an active gentleman, only used to driving about the countryside; being on foot shows Harold, a wholly different environment. One that can heal, help and encourage. He realises how little he needs and wants even. If you can be touched by the humanity that bubbles beneath the surface of everyday life, rarely tested but still stoically standing ready to offer the best of human nature, this will reinforce your confidence in people in general. The descriptions are fresh, the pace perfect, the denouement surprising and immensely satisfying.