When the sleeve of a paperback chart novel is adorned with all manner of recommendations and is nominated for literary awards of all kinds it is either the next must have book, or someone has a very, very good PR company. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce’s first novel, is most definitely the next must have book.
I should point out from the off that I was attracted to this novel by the cover, and whilst the old adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is as prevalent as it ever was, I think there is something rather special about taking a chance on a book based on what it looks like. My leap of faith paid off.
The story is of the titular character Harold Fry as he hears news of an old friend’s terminal disease. What begins as delivering a simple letter of sympathy ends up becoming a monumental journey of one sixty-something man trying to save the life of an old friend as he treks from a modest village in the south of England to Berwick-upon-Tweed with nothing but a worn pair of boating shoes and the will to walk in his heart.
It is an inspiring story which is funny, heart-warming and at times very melancholy indeed. Sympathising with Harold and his plight is easy, and with his self-confessed problems, he is very recognisable as a character from life.
The most significant feature of Harold’s story however is not his friendship with Queenie whom he intends to save, but the strained relationship with his wife and her reluctance to come to terms with Harold’s journey in a marriage which both realise, but do not care to say is more than a little stale.
The characters who Harold encounters along the way are hugely entertaining including the loyal Wilf and the frankly annoying Rich who inadvertently begins to ruin Harold’s journey in an effort to get to Berwick sooner.
What The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is, is one man’s story in abandoning routine for a greater good, and contains a message that many readers, myself included, would do well to notice. The revelations throughout are genuinely shocking and often heart-breaking and as a story that makes you think about your own existence is hugely profound. I cannot recommend reading this book enough. Poignant, moving and outwardly funny too, this is a must have for your bookshelf.