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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Published on Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Walking the long road to healing

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Recently retired Harold Fry has settled into a life of inactivity in the small English village where he and Maureen have lived in since they married forty-five years ago.  Years of built up resentments and misunderstandings have made Harold and Maureen all but estranged, functioning under the same room day-to-day under a fragile veneer of civility.

One day, a letter arrives from Queenie Hennessey, a woman with whom Harold hadforged a friendship at work many years ago.  Queenie had been fired abruptly 20 years ago and moved 500 miles away across England, as we find out later, after taking the fall for an untoward prank perpetrated by Harold on their cruel boss.   

Queenie has written to say that she is dying of cancer and wants to say “Goodbye.”  Harold, never a wise or clever man, couldn’t find words other than “Sorry to hear the bad news” in a return letter. Yet deep in his heart, Harold he knew he let down his only friend those many years ago, and now owed her more than these feeble words.  Walking to the Post, Harold stopped at a gas station café where the young waitress tells him that having positive thoughts, doing positive deeds, and having faith was the key to helping someone survive cancer – more powerful than any medicine.   Impulsively, Harold calls the hospice where Queenie was dying and told the nurse to ask Queenie to hold on – he was coming to see her in person.  He calls his wife Maureen what he is planning, but it takes her a while before she can figure out what to make of it.

What follows is Harold’s months-long walking journey across England, where he encounters hardships, delights, time to commune with the natural world, and to reflect on a lifetime of regrets, disappointments, mistakes, sorrows, and his failed marriage – urged to forge on at every obstacle by his faith that he can make amends to his old friend by saving her life. 

This improbable tale is heartwarming, humorous, and humane.  Mankind’s magnificence is matched character for character, incident for incident by mankind’s more unattractive, alarming, and kooky aspects.   

This is a must read for recommended for book discussion groups. 

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