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The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
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on 4 February 2018
A powerful and beautifully written story of lost friends, shattered lives, guilt, determination, hope and redemption. A modern day odyssey of the ordinary man. Touching and thought provoking. Retiree, Harold Fry, is driven into taking extraordinary steps (literally walking the length of the country) when a letter from a long lost friend, dying from cancer and living in Berwick on Tweed, forces him to face up to his past. He writes a response and sets out to post it from his home in South Kingsbridge but feeling his reply inadequate and inspired by a petrol garage cashier (with faith you can achieve anything) he carries on walking.
Overall 5/5. (Plot 5/5, Characterisation 5/5, Literary Merit 4/5, Readability 5/5.)
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on 13 August 2017
I read this book as a sample initially, and left it there not believing it was what I wanted to read at the time. Since then, over probably three years, the idea of it niggled at me. Eventually I cracked and bought the whole book and took it slowly, no so much savouring it as digesting it carefully.
It's written the way an art Western movie is shot, much silence and introspection, and as such trying to read it all in one or two sittings will only give you the husk of its meaning.
Peopled with characters who are relatable but not necessarily likeable, there are deeper truths discussed long before the full meaning is revealed.
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on 2 February 2016
I'm going to be entirely honest to begin with. I saw this book years ago and was vaguely intrigued by it. However, I never bought it because of the word "pilgrimage". I thought it would have far too many religious references in it. I was wrong and highly ignorant at that time.

This story follows Harold's impulsive journey from Kingston to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the hope of saving his friend from cancer. You can predict from the beginning that, unfortunately, that won't happen but the story runs much deeper than our Hero being out to save someone's life. It's as much a focus on Harold's and his wife's Maureen's relationship and the troubles of their marriage than the journey itself. The struggles of his journey conjure up memories that he had otherwise repressed a long time ago, leaving him to deeply think about what he has made of his life up until now. His journey also leads to his wife doing the same. He has many ups and downs throughout, which makes the journey all the more powerful. Some people would complain at that but if you're thinking that you wouldn't act as Harold would in the story, try doing your own walk, you may be surprised by how similar the outcome would be. Especially if you had no training like Harold.

The only issue I had was when word traveled of what Harold was doing and others joined him and ended up taking the glory for themselves but in reality, that undoubtedly would've happened anyway, so that was just one annoying concept of human behaviour right there. It was more the fact that "glory of accomplishment" was introduced into the story more than the characters themselves just being human.

It ended as I wanted it to end. I expected nothing different.

I've read reviews about it being simplistic and that all he does is just travel throughout the entire book... Well that's the point of it. If you choose to read it expecting something different, then you'd be wrong. The story gets it's high reviews for it's emotional detailing, not it's basic idea of a man traveling across the country to save a friend's life. A lot of people seem to have gotten the wrong idea. It's a very thought provoking novel that leaves you asking yourself a lot of your own questions of what your life has been like up until this point. If you don't like that idea, then don't read it. It's that simple.
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VINE VOICEon 11 June 2016
Harold Fry is a humble man who has made mistakes in life that he does not fully understand. One day a letter arrives from an old friend, Queenie Hennessey, whom he has not seen for twenty years.

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.
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on 9 November 2015
I really enjoyed this touching tale of retired Harold, who sets off on a mission to deliver a letter to Queenie, a one time work colleague who is now gravely ill.

Although they haven't been in touch for many, many years, Harold remembers a kindness from Queenie, and writes a brief note expressing his condolences, with the intention of posting it to her. As he reaches the post box, he decides to walk to the next one, then the next and after an encounter, is soon walking to personally deliver the letter some 600 miles away in the belief that this will save Queenie from her fate.

It did take me a chapter or two to really become involved in the story and characters, but once Harold started walking I was feeling every blister and ache right along with him. I found a little of the books charm did start to waver when the 'pilgrimage' characters were introduced and was relieved they didn't hang around for too long and I got to concentrate on Harold again. Overall, a very quirky and moving story that reminds us it's never too late to start over again.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 November 2014
What an absolutely gloriously brilliant, fascinating, comedic and yet deeply moving book, all at the same time!

It touches all of your senses and more, without being all mushy - trust me, I don't 'do' sentimental stories.

I admit I had my reservations because of the general hype and the genre itself. But mainly due to the nagging doubt of how someone could write a story about a retired gent walking from South Devon to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and make that even remotely interesting? Well, they did, and they did it REALLY well.

If you like A Man Called Ove, you'll love this and vice-versa. Highly recommended.

PS. To expand this story further I read the follow up book The Love Song of Queenie Hennessey - although this has similar elements and it's pretty good, I found it a little depressing and it didn't hold my attention as much as 'Harold Fry'.
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on 23 January 2016
I haven't enjoyed a novel so much for a very long time. This is a story with which every reader of a certain age will identify and which will provoke a unique set of thoughts and emotions, depending upon the circumstances of the individual. The novel begins like a simple adventure story as Harold sets out on his long walk to reunite with Queenie. The emotional impact cranks up gradually as the story progresses, capturing the total involvement of the reader by the end. Whilst extremely sad in parts, there are many light-hearted moments and an ultimate message of hope. We all harbour regrets and missed opportunities to meet life head-on and to appreciate those who are closest to us. It often takes a rather cataclysmic event, such as Harold's arduous walk, to make us realise what we have been missing or have been taking for granted. No complex plot that twists and turns, no gratuitous sex or violence, no huge mystery....simply the gradual unwinding of a life that could have been lost in regret.
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on 13 February 2015
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was brilliant, a lovely book. Joyce offers one of those rare gems that make you feel happy and sad and laugh and cry at the same time. I thought Harold was a lovely character. His determination to walk more than 600 miles believing it will stop an old friend from dying of cancer would be laughable if he didn’t seem so determined to go through with it and if he wasn’t such a sweet old man. I was rooting for Harold as he plodded mile after mile after mile. As The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry progresses Harold starts to think about the things he regrets from the past and it becomes clear he’s not walking just to save Queenie’s life but to make up for twenty years’ worth of failings. I liked the flashbacks to Harold and Maureen’s life; their intense love for each other in the early days and the fragmenting of their love and marriage once their son David is born because he’s afraid to be a father. There’s something wonderfully human about Harold’s pilgrimage. There are revelations about David towards the end of the novel that are heart-breaking. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is so moving it’s almost painful and leaves a big lump in your throat. Unmissable.
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on 3 September 2017
This could be a sad book, depending on your state of mind but it such a lovely read. Retired Harold isn't happy and truth be told, he hasn't been for a number of years. Then one morning a letter arrives which sends him on a quest. The experiences he gains and people he meets effect him profoundly. I don't want to spoil your enjoyment by telling you more than that. You will cry in places.
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on 18 April 2018
I love this book with its bittersweet story of Harold and the pilgrimage that helped him rediscover himself. Harold is a decent man whose life seems pointless. He had a lonely childhood and then a lonely marriage. When he hears from an old friend that she is terminally ill, on an impulse he sets out to walk from his home to the Berwick hospice to see her. This walk takes him about 3 months. Along the way, Harold meets many people , most of whom help him. His thoughts, reminiscences and feelings are the bulk of the story.

The prose is beautiful with some wonderful descriptions of the countryside as Harold passes through it, the evening fall, the rising day, the the wildlife and plants. I couldn't put it down.
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