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The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry Paperback – 3 Jan 2013
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"One of the sweetest, most delicately-written stories I've read in a long time. One man's walk along the length of England to save the life of a dying woman. Each chapter describes a different encounter along the way, with a definite nod to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Philosophical, intriguing, and profoundly moving." (Richard Madeley Foyles website)
"Uplifting, funny and delicate" (Jon Stock The Daily Telegraph)
"Wonderful" (Deborah Orr Guardian)
"At times almost unbearably moving." (Sunday Times)
"A brilliant and charming novel: full of comic panache yet acute and poignant." (Spectator)
From the Inside Flap
n Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else's life.
"The odyssey of a simple man, original, subtle and touching."
"From the moment I met Harold Fry, I didn't want to leave him. Impossible to put down."
(Erica Wagner, "The Times").
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Perfect is beautifully written. It tackles the interesting and unique perspective of a character who has OCD, and gives the reader an insightful view of him growing up and dealing with everyday situations and problems. Joyce perfects the ability to portray characters in a way which evokes sympathy while still allowing them to be plausible.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, it was written well and gave a very interesting perspective on the struggles of a man suffering from a mental illness. I particularly enjoyed the narration from Jim on the mundane activities he encounters in his life. His OCD not only prevents him from doing things that everyone else enjoys, but confines him to crippling routines in order to satisfy the demands of his condition. While the book’s main story was very stimulating, I found at times Joyce presented characters who were a little too superficial and lacked necessary depth. Compliant and orderly Diana was a little too cliché to make her interesting. Her lack of protest towards her controlling husband Seymour, as well as her “perfect” appearance made for a tedious character development. Furthermore, Diana’s would be friend Beverly, is too much of a polar opposite of Diana to make her realistic or compelling.
However, on the whole, I thought Perfect raised thought-provoking questions about gender roles in the 1970s and the very apparent stigma attached to mental illness, even in the present day. She delves deep into the reasons mental-illness is a difficult subject to understand, while portraying Jim with dignity and raw courage.
Queenie is dying from inoperable cancer and his written to Harold to thank him for his friendship and to say goodbye.
Unsure how to respond, Harold writes an ineffectual reply that he takes to the post box but does not post. Instead, he finds himself compelled to to walk to the next post box and then the next, until he finds himself at a garage and an encounter with the checkout girl sets him off on his ‘pilgrimage’. His spontaneous decision is the start of a 600 mile walk to Berwick-on-Tweed to say goodbye to Queenie in person.
The journey that follows is expertly written in simple, light prose and its simplicity can take your breath away. Yet it’s that very simplicity that also slightly undermines the weight of some of the issues dealt with in the book. Swinging from light humour to dark despair, Harold’s journey and the people he meets are all crafted with such clarity that it appears at times more than fiction. While walking, Harold reflects on his life and his broken marriage with his wife Maureen, who has been left behind wondering if he will ever return.
Harold questions the mistakes he’s made, in particular his inability to be a father to their apparently estranged son David. His memories of failing to engage with David as a child are heartbreaking.
Despite it being a light read, I was very moved by this novel. Harold may be an ordinary every-man, but his pain is clearly drawn and I related to his regrets. He is all of us and anyone can find some aspect of their own life in him.
I really enjoyed this book: it made me laugh and cry in equal measure and despite some of its dark admissions, it is ultimately hopeful. Rachel Joyce has great faith in the human spirit and great faith in Harold. Perhaps if all us took a similar pilgrimage, we might become more aware of what it really means to be human.