Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.
Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.
Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.
And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.
A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.
"This is an utterly charming book that quietly but firmly takes you by the hand and off you go, in the company of one, Harold Fry. Harold is a bored retiree who receives a letter from an old friend that sets him off on a journey he had not the faintest notion that he would ever take and certainly ever complete. Though he is in the latter part of his life, Harold discovers the world as if for the first time or after waking from a long dream, and as we walk along beside him, we, too, get to look at life freshly and with new hope.
This story is about the ways we can slowly die to ourselves and to those around us, but, most importantly, it is an affirmation of the resilience of the human spirit and the many ways we can choose to step back into life, with joy and with gratitude.
I thoroughly enjoyed it."
"There goes my hero. He's ordinary." Foo Fighters
"If you've ever been on a leisurely stroll and wondered what would happen if you just kept walking, then The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the perfect novel for you. Harold Fry seems the least likely guy for any type of pilgrimage. He's retired, out of shape, not particularly religious, and had merely set out to drop off a letter in reply to a long lost friend. But this particular friend struck a nerve, and had such significance to his life that written words could not convey what she meant to him. So he pulls back the letter from the lip of the mailbox and decides to walk it to her -- 600 miles away. Harold leaves behind his wife, his home, and nearly all possessions as he puts one foot in front of the other aimed to the northern tip of coastal England. Along the way he meets an intriguing assortment of characters, attracts press attention and even groupies, and suffers a whole lot of aches and pains from both physical and mental exertion.
So why does he walk? Why not drive or take a bus? At times a pilgrimage is not necessarily location specific, but more specific to a state of mind. Harold has a lifetime of dark secrets to confront, mysteries to solve, and sometimes it really, really hurts. In the song 'Mr. Harris' Aimee Mann sings the lyric 'Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get what you need.' If a man feels the need to walk across the country then maybe he ought to do it.
I urge any lover of fiction to take this incredible journey with Mr. Fry. After finishing, I instantly felt the need to re-read the first three chapters to make sure I had a full grasp of the story. It's one of those rare books where you're reading about the ordinary and somewhere along the line it becomes extraordinary. And you put the book down and think, 'Wow, what was that?'"