Book review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

I have a book backlog. It can be problematic. I try to avoid acquiring books at a greater rate than I can read them but

a) it’s difficult

b) other people get me books

c) I don’t really want to

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So when I say I picked this up around January (and I’m writing the review in October) believe me when I say that it is far from the longest a book has waited to be read and that I have plenty on my shelves that have waited much longer. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the book. Ok? Ok.

Rachel Joyce starts the story with a retired couple in their kitchen on an ordinary day. Perhaps they don’t get on as well as they once did but it’s not immediately obvious how dysfunctional their relationship is, only that Harold seems to be trying to avoid annoying his wife.

He gets a letter from an old friend informing him that she is unwell and in hospice care. It’s a letter to thank him for his friendship and to say goodbye. So, not an especially cheerful start. In many respects, this is a book about loss, but it’s also about hope and there are as many uplifting moments as there are heart-breaking ones. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I love a good heart breaking book. Something that makes me want to cry when I’ve finished reading it, or even while I am reading it, something that makes me feel empty inside. I can be a real ray of sunshine like that.

So Harold writes a reply and shouts to his wife that he’s off to the post box to post it. It’s a sunny Spring day. He gets to the post box and decides he’s enjoying his walk, so might walk to the next one. When he gets to that he decides to go even further. Within a few hours he’s decided to walk all the way to the hospice where his friend is staying – at the other end of the country. He has convinced himself that this will somehow save her and that she will be able to hang on long enough to see him arrive.

So off he goes on his adventure, horribly ill equipped and unready to do so. He meets a wide range of people along the way, learning that on the whole people are good and that, while the world can be scary and dangerous, it’s also exciting and wonderful. Meanwhile the story of him and his wife and the son they have together is slowly told. Eventually revealing a twist that I only started to partially suspect a couple of pages before it was spelled out for me.

I found it very easy reading and read it very quickly. I’d recommend it as light reading for anyone who enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars or Never Let Me Go. If you like happy stories where everything is always nice and bad things only happen to bad people… maybe give it a miss.

Just as hoped, it made me cry. 10/10 – would weep into the pages again.

Originally posted here:

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