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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 5 September 2013
It is amazing how Rachel Joyce not only convinces the reader of the feasibility of such an improbable quest, she also manages to inspire him/her to actually root for Harold Fry, the newly-retired teetotaler (from a brewery, no less). He walks out one day to post a reply to Queenie Hennessy, who has written to tell him she was dying of cancer in a hospice all the way up in Berwick-upon-Tweed (as North as it is South in Kingsbridge, where he is from). But instead of posting the letter, he keeps on walking, and inspired by a garage girl, who tells him about her own aunt with cancer, and that "if you have faith, you can do anything", he resolves that as long as he is walking, Queenie will live (nevermind that he left his phone at home and is wearing yachting shoes).

Interwoven into this journey is Harold's reflections on his estranged marriage to Maureen, and the tenuous relationship with his son David, whom Maureen confides in, when her discovery that her husband has embarked on this ridiculous pilgrimage turns from bewilderment, to anger and despair. An unintended consequence of all that time in the wide open country as he treks treacherously by the side of motorways is the opportunity for Harold to confront and wrestle with the ghosts of his past.

Joyce paints a rather poignant picture of Harold, and shows his struggles when the normally reticent man has to explain his quest to complete strangers: "He took a deep breath. If he heard the sound of words coming from his mouth enough times, maybe he would feel like the sort of person who could get up and do something about them." The failure of communication in his marriage is also rather efficiently summed up in these lines : "Sometimes her words sliced down on his before they had even reached his mouth."

Harold the child had also had to deal with disapproval from the string of aunts his father takes up with when Harold's mother abandoned them: "'He's awfully tall,' his Aunty May had said of him once, as if this was something you could rectify, like a leaking tap."

Not only is her desription of characters sharp and insightful, Joyce is a skilful writer who comes up with such beautiful lines of prose, you just want to read them over and over again, like this afternoon scene just after heavy rain: "To the east, the cloud tore open and a low belt of polished silver light broke through. Harold stood and watched as the mass of grey split again and again, revealing new colours: blue, burnt amber, peach, green and crimson. Then the cloud became suffused with a dulled pink, as if those vibrant colours had bled through, merging as they met. He couldn't move. He wanted to witness every change. The light on the land was gold; even his skin was warm with it. At his feet the earth creaked and whispered. The air smelt green and full of beginnings. A soft mist rose, like wisps of smoke." The reader's senses are totally engaged in the picture Joyce paints.

Such beautiful, and at times heartwrenching prose would be pointless without a compelling story. Joyce has achieved that rare feat of meeting both criteria. At the end of the day, it is the pronouncement: "But maybe it's what the world needs. A little less sense, and a little more faith", that makes this tale such a powerful one.
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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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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 10 May 2017
I purchased this book a few years ago but have not yet read it yet. I have however downloaded the book as an audio book read by the great Jim Broadbent. He can bring out the characters so much better than I ever could and I enjoy each chapter greatly as I move on. I hope to become as intrigued by life and what it holds in store when I reach old age.
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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 5 May 2014
I really don't know why I bought this book because it's not the type of book I usually read...but I'm glad I did. The story of Harolds journey north to Berwick can be, at times, a bit of a slog as can some of the characters and adventures he faces. The really surprising thing about this book is how suddenly by end of the book the author brings all the loose ends together and will have you saying...Ohh, now I see!! and reaching for the hanky ( I know I did, I was reading the last few chapters in a busy canteen and had to leave for fear of embarrassing myself...I'm a bloke you see and I am much more use to the stiff upper lip).
In the final few chapters, even the most hard hearted reader, will be moved as Harold's journey comes to an end.
I will miss Queenie, Harold, Maureen and David and it will be a book that I will never put in the charity bag....somethings tells me that I will revisiting these characters in the future.
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on 16 April 2017
Couldn't put it down and shows how everyone has their own agenda and how thoughtless we can be. Be sure to read the companion book, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy to find out more of the story and how someone else's point of view can be enlightening and so much in life can be misconstrued and misunderstood
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on 23 April 2017
This is the story of Harold and his journey from one end of the UK to the other by foot. It's an emotional read as Harold battles his feelings on his past. I was sucked into this book, at times incredibly sad and at other really funny. A good plot and characters.
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on 10 September 2017
The title tells the reader straight away that the scenario is unlikely so a suspension of belief is required at the outset to enjoy the story of a 60+ recently retired man reflecting on his life and relationships, via the said 'unlikely pilgrimage'. Personally I much preferred the passages where the main character, Harold Fry, and increasingly as the book progresses, his wife, reflect on their life and their relationship with each other, and with their only son, compared to the passages which recount the various places, events and strangers met on the pilgrimage so overall a good 3-star read.
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on 16 August 2013
I recently purchased the new book by Rachel Joyce, Patience, but someone suggested that I read this one first and I'm so glad I did. It really is a lovely book which just avoids being overly twee or sentimental by a strong realistic streak throughout. It begins with a ver unlikely premise that a man going out to post a letter to someone he once knew who is dying, and who then decides he will walk there instead. Somhow though you are soon completely involved in his travels and literally willing him on. Although the book is basically about death and how people cope with grief in different ways, it manages to remain optimistic and hopeful virtually the whole way through. I thoroughly enjoyed it and know it is one of those books that I shall remember with pleasure for a long time.
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