The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel

by Rachel Joyce

Hardcover, 2012




Random House (2012), Edition: 1st, 336 pages


Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance.


½ (1897 ratings; 4)

Media reviews

That marvelous note of absurdity tempers the pain that runs beneath this whole novel. Joyce has no interest in mocking Harold; she just describes his quixotic trek in a gentle, matter-of-fact voice, mile after mile. At 65, he’s never walked farther than his own driveway. He has no map, cellphone
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or change of clothes, and his thin yachting shoes couldn’t be less appropriate for such a journey across England. “Harold would have been the first to admit that there were elements to his plan that were not finely tuned,” Joyce writes. But when the idea of saving Queenie blooms in the fallow soil of his mind, he can’t be stopped. “I will keep walking,” he declares, “and she must keep living.”
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Very rarely, you come upon a novel that feels less like a book than a poignant passage of your own life, and the protagonist like an acquaintance who has gently corrected your path. Never mind that the protagonist possesses all the realism of a painted clown and his tale the moral fibre of a
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fable. Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry starts off in just this way. A rumpled retiree determines to walk 500 miles, believing his hope-filled steps will keep his dying friend alive. The premise seems quaint and predictable, but morphs gracefully into a smart, subtle, funny, painful, weirdly personal novel.
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The unlikely but lovable hero of Rachel Joyce's remarkable debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, doesn't call his walk a pilgrimage. He never even calls it a hike, which would suggest planning, a map and hiking boots, all of which Harold lacks....Pilgrimage, one of the 12 novels just
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long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Britain's top literary award, is a gentle adventure with an emotional wallop. It's a smart, feel-good story that doesn't feel forced.
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“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is not just a book about lost love. It is about all the wonderful everyday things Harold discovers through the mere process of putting one foot in front of the other. “The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other,”
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........The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” takes its opening epigraph from John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It takes the stirring spirituality of its ending from Bunyan too. In between Ms. Joyce’s book loosely parallels “The Pilgrim’s Progress” at times, but it is very much a story of present-day courage. She writes about how easily a mousy, domesticated man can get lost and how joyously he can be refound.
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Joyce slowly reveals what he has to walk away from, and there are some surprises. His progress is measured in memories as well as miles; memories of parents who didn’t want him, and of the early days of his marriage and his only son David’s childhood. There are a few lapses in the
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story—events and characters that come along at convenient moments—but Joyce captures Harold’s emotions with a tidiness of words that is at times thrilling. It’s a trip worth taking.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member mrstreme
The front cover of my advanced reader's edition of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry had the word "marvelous" in big, bold letters across it. Shrugging it off as marketing mumbo jumbo, I started reading this book, expecting an average read by a new author. Well, 24 hours later, I finished the
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last sentence and could only think of one word, "marvelous." The front cover didn't lie.

Harold Fry is newly retired and trying to stay out of the way of his wife, Maureen. He receives a letter from a former colleague and friend, Queenie, who writes to tell him that she is dying from cancer. Hearing from Queenie was a shock, and Harold is a bit flummoxed on how to respond. He jots down a few lines and decides to drop the letter in the mailbox down the street. En route, he keeps walking further and further, until he makes a decision: he is going to walk all the way to Queenie's hospice (some 500+ miles). As long as he keeps walking, Queenie will live. Harold Fry begins his journey.

The story then falls into pace with Harold's walk. The reader takes every step with him - through small English towns and among meadows and steams. As Harold meets people along his way, he learns the value of listening and not judging. At times, the journey seems too much, and with each blister and sore muscle, the reader keeps nudging Harold on.

As Harold spends time alone, he contemplates the history of his marriage and his son, David. Joyce not only gives us Harold's perspective but Maureen's too. The couple has been through a lot, and as I reached the end of the book, I was rooting for them both.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a gem of a book - giving the reader so much to mull over. I couldn't put the book down until I learned the fate of Harold and if he reached Queenie. I would not rest until I knew what happened to Maureen and Harold. From the first page to the last, this story had me engaged and enthralled. I recommend it to anyone who likes to take a journey through reading. You won't be disappointed by Rachel Joyce's superb writing and Harold's tale.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 3* of five

The Book Description: 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
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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.

My Review: I take strong exception to the publisher's sales copy calling this book “unsentimental” because it most assuredly is as sentimental as it's possible for a story to be. It is Dickensian in its sentimentality. Anyone who has ever interacted with me will know I do not intend that as a compliment.

The Mouldering Mound of ~Meh~ is the natural home of this Grail quest. Sentimental encounters with many characters, all of whom unlock Harold's frozen memories (frozen, may I add, for excellent reasons that spoiler aversion forbids me to so much as hint at) and, in turn, leave Harold to his long walk being changed in their turn. So nothing new there.

The mildly humorous, mildly silly tone of the narrative is mildly pleasant, and Joyce makes every effort to be an engaging companion on Harold's walk with the reader. I got quite fed up with the book around p50, and soldiered on for one reason and one only: The MAN Booker people put it on the Prize list. It didn't win, obviously, but this got nominated? Why? Is there something on p310, p186, any whole number you can name up to 316, that will make this make sense to me?

No. No, there is not. It's all nice, pleasant, amusing, beige-carpet-and-cream-walls stuff. Don't even dream that there's an Ugly Secret lurking here. There's no monster in this lake, unless you subscribe to the theory that evil in its purest for is banal.

For all its banality, Joyce tells us about the anguish that lives in most hearts, and even roadmaps the way for the disconnected to reconnect. She's got the chops to make that happen without overt, eyerollingly hammy Declarations and Heart-to-Hearts, thank goodness. I said it was pleasant! But, well, it's just so....

Untoasted Wonder Bread with Velveeta, tuna salad, and cream gravy sound good to you? Here's you a book.
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LibraryThing member vancouverdeb
Harold Fry receives a letter from an old friend and colleague that she is in hospice. Queenie, his old friend ,does not have long to live. Harold is so touched by the letter, that he sets off by foot, to visit her, without thinking clearly about the 100 mile walk he is embarking on. When Harold
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places a brief call to the hospice, a Sister there suggests to him that many dying people will hang on to life until seeing those dear to them. Thus Harold continues on his walk - or pilgrimage, to see his colleague.

Our protagonist is a 65 year old man, retired and in a stale and somewhat cold marriage. Something has gone awry with their son, but we are not privy to what that is until very close to the end of the book. As Harold walks each day , he reflects back on his childhood, marriage, how he failed his son and many other events in his life. As he walks he is joined by people from all " walks" of life. Each person affects him in different ways and helps evoke certain memories from Harold's life. These people also give him him hope and appreciation for life as they share small portions of their varied lives. Harold's world grows much broader.

I found myself underlining many passages of wisdom as I read the book . While I did not find the book to be sentimental, I challenge anyone who reads the book not to have tears in their eyes during the last pages in the book.

Although The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is long - listed for the Booker, I suspect it will not make the short list. That said, I found this to both the most uplifting and also heartbreaking book that I have read in a long time. I have my copy on a kindle, and I plan to pick up a paper copy so as to underline all of the passages that I so enjoyed. I also think that The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will find a very large audience. I plan to purchase several copies to give away as gifts.

A thoughtful , insightful, wonderful read , widely recommended.

4.25 stars
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
Harold Fry has recently retired after working as a salesman for a local brewery for many years. He was competent but quiet, nondescript and largely anonymous to his co-workers. He lives with his wife Maureen in a modest home in Kingsbridge, a small village in South West England. Their marriage has
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been strained for years, as Maureen harbors bitterness and a deep seated hostility toward Harold, although she does not openly express a desire to leave him.

On one ordinary day Harold receives a letter from his former colleague Queenie Hennessy, who resides in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, the northernmost town in England. She informs him that she has end-stage cancer, and writes to say goodbye to him. Harold is deeply affected by this news, and he immediately writes a letter of sympathy to her. He leaves home to mail the letter, and in doing so he encounters a teenage girl who works at a garage. After Harold informs her of the purpose of his trip, she tells him about her aunt's case of cancer. He is led to believe that the girl's belief led her aunt to overcome her terminal illness. He is greatly inspired by this, and he spontaneously decides to walk from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed, a journey of over 500 miles, in the hope that doing so will cure Queenie.

As Harold walks, wearing only the street clothes, rain jacket and yachting shoes that he wore when he initially left the house, he reflects on his past mistakes in his relationship with his wife, their son David, and Queenie, who was fired from her job at the brewery in an incident that also involved him. He soon realizes that he has been an indifferent and reserved husband and father, unknowable to them, or to himself:

It occurred to him it was Maureen who spoke to David and told him their news. It was Maureen who had always written Harold's name ("Dad") in the letters and cards. It was even Maureen who had found the nursing home for his father. And it raised the question—as he pushed the button at the pelican crossing—that if she was, in effect, Harold, “then who am I?”

He encounters a variety of people on his journey, most of whom support and encourage him once he tells them his story, and they eagerly share their experiences with him. Maureen is initially furious at him after she learns about his decision, but later her feelings transform to jealousy, despair, concern, and longing for him.

As the journey becomes more arduous and the constant walking takes a toll on his mid-sixties body, his spirit begins to flag, and he wonders if he should have undertaken this foolhardy journey.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is meant to be an inspiring story of secular faith, self-discovery and love. However, I found it to be a banal and saccharine novel, which was largely pleasant but not one which was affecting or filled with wisdom, although the ending was easily the best part of the book. It, like Harold before his journey, was largely forgettable and mildly annoying in spots, and although it wasn't a bad book, it was the least favorite of the 2012 Booker Prize longlisted books I've read so far.
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LibraryThing member TadAD
One day Harold Fry, a retiree getting on in years, sets off to post a letter of condolence to a former friend, Queenie Hennessey, who is dying of cancer. After 20 years of separation, all he could manage to say is, "I'm sorry." At the first letter box, he decides that he isn't quite ready to let go
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of it, so he walks to the next...then, the one after that...until a strange notion takes him: he drops the letter in the mail, goes into a phone booth and calls to say, "Tell Queenie I'm walking to see her and not to die before I get there." And so begins a 600 mile boat shoes...with only the vaguest idea of where he is going.

On one hand, this is a book that can be read as an allegory about life. Or, you might see it as a novel about faith—certainly that's how the publishers billed in their introduction to the advance reader copy. As I see it, however, it's a novel about a man finally connecting with his own humanity.

On the other hand, you can forego searching for meaning in it and read it simply as a tale of a journey that is, by turns, light-hearted, unsparing, comical, poignant and, generally, captivating. This isn't an action adventure—Harold is never mugged, nor does he stumble across Grail questers or a global conspiracy. While funny at times, it doesn't set out to be a comic piece. There's not even a lot of surprise; the twists that do occur in the plot are things you realize you somehow knew were coming all along. Instead, Joyce relies upon her capacity to convey what it means to be human...and she's rather good at that.

This isn't to say the book is without flaws. Some, though not all, of the secondary characters are a bit cliché. I found myself reminded of the movie Forrest Gump where characters sometimes come and go simply to fulfill a role rather than to be real people. Yet, there were other characters who surprised me with their humanity: the annoying neighbor who shows unexpected depths of loss or the immigrant physician who articulates the line between faith and hopelessness.

And, I will admit that, about two-thirds of the way through the book, Harold spends some time wandering aimlessly and my attention followed suit. However, he pulled himself together and pulled me back in before an ending that was fitting for this story.

Though she has some twenty radio plays to her credit, this is Rachel Joyce's first novel. In it she has created something that might not be labeled as grand or compelling, but which I picked up, read straight through until I was finished, and thought the time well-spent.
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
Harold received a letter from Queenie a friend he had not heard from in many years. It was a good-bye letter because she had cancer. Harold wrote a rather dry reply and went to post it at the nearest mailbox while fighting emotions that began to re-surface to haunt him. This began an impossible
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journey on foot for hundreds of miles across England, and more particularly into his soul exploring deep personal truths of despair, love, angst, and compassion. What kept him going? He wanted to believe that if Queenie knew he was coming, she would hold on to life until he got there.

During his trek Harold made discoveries about himself, his family, and indeed humanity itself. Ill prepared to cover the distance that stretched between him and his dying friend, he struggled through a painful metamorphosis – both physically and spiritually. The reader is given bits of information along the way to unravel the real burden Harold carries.

This is a cleverly written book in its style and format. The important characters were well-drawn and though seemingly random in the story were strategic in the unfolding of the journey. Harold’s adventure did not progress in a straight line. The dangers of the terrain he covered on foot reflected the path he was following in his heart. Whether he made it or not is really beside the point. It’s an easy read, but a difficult pilgrimage.
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LibraryThing member Cait86
This debut novel was longlisted for the Booker Prize the other day, and was the first of the 12 titles I decided to read. By the end, I was worried that I was having flashbacks to last year, when the novels were about readability rather than quality writing. Joyce is, in my mind, nothing beyond a
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normal commercial writer, and her novel left no real lasting impression. I'm not sorry I read it, but I'm not thrilled with it either.

The plot: Harold Fry, 65, living in a unhappy marriage, get a lette from an old colleague, Queenie, who is dying of cancer. Harold sets out to mail a reply back to Queenie, but he walks right past the nearest mailbox. Then he walks past another. And another. Finally Harold decides to walk the entire length of England to the hospice where Queenie is dying, in hopes that his faith in her can keep her alive.

Most of the novel is Harold's journey, and the people he meets along the way, and the lessons he learns from them. Some of the chapters focus on his wife, Maureen, left at home to try and understand what it is her husband is doing. I enjoyed Maureen as a character far more than Harold, and kind of wished that it had been her pilgrimage, rather than his.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was a quick read, and a sweet story, and I can see it appealing to a lot of readers. But the Booker is about the best in literature, and this certainly was not the best.
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LibraryThing member oldblack
This book is difficult for me to rate and, indeed, to evaluate more generally. At one level it's a bizarre fantastic romantic adventure and when I was telling my partner the plot of the book (when I was about 1/3 of the way through) I could see a growing look of incredulity on her face, but then
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she saw me become tearful and unable to talk about some of the events and relationships and she realized that this book is much more than that simple description - well to me it was, anyway. I suppose that's because the heart of this book is a story about a man who is at the depths of despair and yet he doesn't fully recognize this because he is just mechanically going through the routine of life. It is only when a letter comes to him from an old friend who tells him that she is dying, and this triggers his "pilgrimage", that he begins a journey of self examination. It's not a really intense book, and you can read it as an amusing and weird story, but if it connects to an insecure part of you which is not too dissimilar to a part of Harold Fry, then it takes on a new significance.
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LibraryThing member msf59
“The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.”

Harold Fry is in a funk. He’s in his mid-60s, recently retired, stuck in a dull marriage. One day, he receives a letter from a work-friend, who he hasn’t seen in decades. It seems she is dying from cancer. He writes a letter,
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seals it and heads down to the corner mailbox, skips that box and continues onto the next one, as he begins to think about his friend and the shoddy life he leads. Dressed only in a light jacket and deck shoes, he suddenly decides to make a 600 mile journey across England and hand deliver the letter.
This is a “road trip” book. Harold discovering himself, reevaluating his past and meeting many different characters along the way. There are plenty of shining moments here and there are some plodding ones too. A few times, I felt like crying out-”Get there, already mate!” Most readers seem to love this book, so I’m in the minority here, but it’s still a worthy read and one I recommend.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Harold Fry is an aging, unassuming man who lives in an English village with his wife Maureen. His days slip by with little variation. Then, one day over toast, the mail arrives with a letter from a woman Harold has not heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is writing to tell Harold she is
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dying in a Hospice far away in the town of Berwick upon Tweed. Harold pens a response, and walks to the end of his driveway to mail the letter. But something strange happens. Instead of posting his letter, Harold keeps walking and walking and walking. And thus begins his pilgrimage – a mission to walk nearly 600 miles to Queenie in the belief that as long as he walks, she will live.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a deeply moving story of loss, regret and ultimately forgiveness and redemption. Harold’s walk unleashes memories he has buried for years, and uncovers the cracks in his marriage to Maureen, a woman who has retreated behind a wall of anger and accusation as a way to protect her own fragile emotions.

The novel takes the reader on a journey not only forward to Berwick upon Tweed, but backwards into Harold and Maureen’s past where lives filled with joy, sorrow, misunderstanding, and loneliness are revealed.

As Harold walks, he encounters many people who support and encourage him. His journey is as much about touching the lives of others as it is about understanding himself – in fact, the connection to other ordinary people provides Harold with a deeper sense of his own regrets and a better understanding of the human heart.

The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human. - from the ARE of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry -

Rachel Joyce’s narrative moves between Harold and Maureen and gradually begins to connect the dots in the lives of these ordinary yet extraordinary people. This is not a fast-paced plot, but it is compelling drama which propels the reader through its pages to an emotional conclusion. I found my throat constricting and tears welling in my eyes in the last pages of this beautifully written novel. Joyce captures the fragility of the human spirit and the complexity of marriage and love in the face of loss. She reminds us of the need for connection to others to enrich and bring meaning to our own lives.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is simply outstanding literature. I am glad I took Harold’s journey with him. It is not a straight path from Harold’s tiny village to the northern shore of England – it weaves and hesitates, it falters and slows, it is a struggle…but ultimately Harold’s pilgrimage delivers the reader to a satisfying conclusion. Harold and Maureen, and certainly Queenie, will keep the reader company long after the final page of their story has been turned.

This novel which was recently long listed for the prestigious 2012 Booker Prize, is highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member nomadreader
The basics: When Harold Fry, a retired man who lives in southern England, receives a letter from an old co-worker and friend, Queenie, saying goodbye because she is quite ill, he sets out to post his reply letter. Instead of stopping at the mailbox, however, Harold keeps walking so he can say
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goodbye in person. Along the way, he remembers, thinks and meets a quirk cast of characters.

My thoughts: From the first pages of this novel, there is a familiarity to its characters. Harold and his wife, Maureen, seem ordinary and the reader's first glimpse into their lives features the mundanesness of life. Rachel Joyce's observational prose, however, elevates the story. This early passage illustrates the novel itself: "He knew he was going to reach Berwick, and that all he had to do was to place one foot in front of the other. The simplicity of it was joyful. If he kept going forward, he would of course arrive." There is a simplicity to this novel, but there is also a joy to it. While the story itself is straightforward, Harold's interior journey is not.

In spite of its charms, The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry fell flat for me at times. The cast of characters Harold meets along the way became dull. Harold himself is the only constant in this novel, and I never fully warmed to him. His interior monologue featured what felt like a faux innocence about his journey and his life. Many will adore and celebrate Harold, but my inner cynic rolled its eyes at times when this tale became too sweet. What saves this novel from these potential pitfalls is Joyce's writing. As my cynicism became more pronounced, a passage full of wisdom about travel and life would bring me back.

Favorite passage: "Harold thought of all the things in life he’d let go. The small smiles. The offers of a beer. The people he had passed over and over again, in the brewery car park, or on the street, without lifting his head. The neighbours whose forwarding addresses he had never kept. Worse; the son who didn’t speak to him and the wife he had betrayed. He remembered his father in the nursing home, and his mother’s suitcase by the door. And now here was a woman who twenty years ago had proved herself a friend. Was this how it went? That just at the moment when he wanted to do something, it was too late? That all the pieces of a life must eventually be surrendered, as if in truth they amounted to nothing? The knowledge of his helplessness pressed down on him so heavily he felt weak. It wasn’t enough to send a letter. There must be a way to make a difference."

The verdict: While I never fully connected with Harold himself, I did enjoy his journey. At times I felt dismissive of this novel as 'charming' or 'quaint', and while it is both of those things, Joyce's writing elevates this novel. She is a writer to watch.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Harold Fry is recently retired from working in a brewery. He is bored. He and his wife Maureen have been married for 40 years. To put it mildly, their marriage has grown so stale that it is only the fact that they both give the same address and eat at the same table that corroborates that legal
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Then Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, with whom he worked at the brewery, but who has not been heard from since she left town 20 years ago. Queenie writes to say that she is dying and is in a hospice in Berwick upon Tweed. She wants simply to say "goodbye."

Harold, pens a proper reply on proper stationery, and leaves the house dressed in dock-siders, shirt, tie, jacket, dress slacks, to walk to the corner to post his letter. When he gets to the post box, he realizes he's missed the last pickup of the day, and decides to walk up the road to the next box. Thus begins the journey of Harold Fry to save Queenie Hennessy. A series of chance encounters early in his walk convince him that he should visit her personally, and that she will not die as long as she is waiting for him to arrive.

He has no cell-phone, no map (and he hasn't the vaguest idea of where Berwick on Tweed is in relation to where he lives in Kingsbridge), no protective clothing, no good walking shoes. He has only an inner compulsion to see Queenie again, to keep walking. When he starts out, he's not sure why. He's not sure where he's going (physically or metaphorically), he's only sure that he must keep going. He does have some spare change, and his debit card with him, so along the way he buys food, and simple sustenance items. He does call his wife after a bit tell her what he's doing and endure her less than encouraging responses.

Harold's journey is a story of the human spirit. He meets people along the way, and is able to learn from all of them. It also becomes Maureen's story, as the author shifts periodically back to Kingsbridge to show us the other side of the marriage, and how it came to the point where it is. Harold's journey is not a straight path: he jigs, jogs, stops, starts, hesitates, falters, but in the end he accomplishes his goal. He gets to Queenie's

The symbolic elements in this book are too numerous to list. The writing is elegant. The characters are spot on. Rachel Joyce has given us a heart-warming, heart-breaking story of life, of dreams (both fulfilled and long-abandoned), of hope and forgiveness. It is a story to be treasured and savored.There's a lot for discussion and I venture it will become a favorite of book clubs across the country.

And by the way, my ARC did not have a map (the empty page indicated it was to be included in the final edition). I googled to find a map of the UK, and kept it open as I followed Harold's journey. Google Maps pegs it at 467 miles if you go on the M5, but Harold's 87 day on-again, off-again trek took him 627 miles. The ending is dramatic, cathartic, and endearing.

This is a book you want to last 87 days, so you can take that walk with Harold and Maureen. It will definitely be on my top of the year list. Don't miss it.
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LibraryThing member ctpress
Harold get the news of of a colleague that are dying of cancer. He sets out to post a letter - and he decides in stead to walk to her and it turns out to be an eventful pilgrimage.

I liked this book best, when it was just Harold on the road by himself meeting strangers. These moments, these
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situations were truly wonderful - also his wife back home starting to open up to her neighbor. On his long walk we are also introduced to things of the past, slowly we discover truths that alter our perception of the characters. The relationship with his son being the main theme - a theme I didn't think was that successful.

Well, it was wonderful reading by Jim Broadbent - one that added to my rating. A slow, careful, pensive reading. Just like Harold - and then Harold does this thing without thinking, totally out of character. And life opens up...I feel like rereading Thoreau's wonderful essay on Walking. Well, I might just do that.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
“I’m an ordinary chap, passing by. I’m not the sort who stands out in a crowd. And I don’t trouble anyone. When I tell people what I’m doing, they seem to understand.” (99)

Harold Fry, recently retired from his mundane job, lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen. He
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lives quietly, seeking no attention – so much so that he might be invisible. His wife is an unhappy and bitter woman, uncertain whether she has stayed with Harold because she is lonely, or because she pities him. The couple and their son, David, were a happy family once, but the memory is, sadly, a distant one. When Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, a woman with whom he worked but has not seen in twenty years, he sets out upon an unplanned walk of some six hundred miles – to the opposite end of England, to the hospice house in which Queenie is dying of cancer. He will meet numerous interesting and varied characters on his unlikely pilgrimage, which, rather predictably, becomes a journey of truth, acceptance, and, ultimately, freedom.

The novel is a decently written, accessible read, though I am not certain I would put it in the company of literature I think of as Booker-worthy. Still, it is not without its charms: an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey, humour, grief, healing, and human kindnesses.
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LibraryThing member beserene
I stayed up until break of dawn this morning to finish this book. It wasn't something I'd anticipated doing. The first half had gone by slowly, overloaded with introspection. The slow pace made sense, since this is a novel about a retired man walking from one end of England to the other because he
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believes it will save an old friend, but there were times in that first section that I had the urge to speak to Harold myself: "It's a good thing you are such a likable guy," I might have said, "because otherwise all this self-reflection would be insanely tedious." And yet, I kept turning pages. I wasn't even sure why, at first -- those little teases of mysterious tragedy intended to generate "compellingness" were largely obvious from the start -- but there was something about this character, Harold Fry, and his wife that made me simply want to know what would happen. So I read.

And as I read, somewhere along the line, the introspection stopped being tedious. The reflections grew into resonant, applicable emotions; the characters transformed into figures both intensely human and genuinely humane. The ideas became important.

Without really realizing it, I was reading like a madwoman, glued to the page in the last stretch of Harold's quest. I cheered him on, in my head. I sighed for him when things started to fall apart. I read the last 25 pages with tears streaming down my cheeks. I thought about Harold's journey as the dawn light filtered into my bedroom, until I fell asleep, and even then I dreamt of walking.

It turned out to be just that sort of book.
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LibraryThing member Helenoel
I received this book through the Library Thing Early reviewer's program and really enjoyed it. It is on the surface a simple story of a man and his walk across most of England (a map would have helped this American reader, but I could have found one easily if I really needed it). The back story is
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gracefully revealed as we journey with Harold and stay at home with his wife. The pilgrimage is revealed to be a love story, but not the one you might expect. It is well written, engaging and a gentle, comfortable read. I recommend it.
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LibraryThing member fredamans
Quite a story!
I can definitely see why this book is a favorite for many. Told with many intricacies, that have you mind-bent at times.
Was the journey Harold took crazy? You're damn skippy. Was it worth it? It definitely was. Even if it stopped being about what it was in the first place.
I got
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nothing but mad love for Harold and Maureen. You think one thing and are going to be totally wrong... it is what it is... but you know this is a great thing, because what you're rooting for is even better than expected!
Yeah, all I can say is, if you haven't read it. You really need to. Seriously.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a quiet and moving novel that borders on being overly sentimental. At times it may toe the line, but I personally did not find it gimmicky or sloppy. It does require a reader to be open minded (hearted?) about matters of the heart and to accept the fact that
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the elderly are people too. If this kind of novel appeals to you, you're more like to remember the feelings that accompanied the story than the story itself. The story is slow at times, and while the characters are somewhat memorable, they're not particularly remarkable. That being said, I enjoyed the novel for what it was. It was lovely and affecting. I found the death scene (of whom I will not tell) to be very well rendered. I will not be surprised to see ...Harold Fry turned into a film; Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn come immediately to mind, but only because of the wonderful movie Lovely, Still which, at times, this novel reminded me of.
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LibraryThing member Alliebadger
This book managed to read just like a walk. It meandered with a purpose, it reflected, it took in nature's beauty. It also felt a little pointless at times. Overall, I enjoyed the book and marveled at the way it was written. I would recommend this more for older people. As a 23-year-old, I liked
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it, but I think those older will get more out of its life reflections.
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LibraryThing member 1forthebooks
I had to come back and change my rating because here it is 2 years later and I still think about this novel. I sometimes find myself yearning to read more about Harold!
LibraryThing member MillieHennessy
I really enjoyed this book. I don't often read books with older protagonists, and getting a look into Harold's less-than-perfect life as a retired gentleman was very refreshing.

Harold begins his unexpected journey with a walk to the mailbox, and it soon turns into a pilgrimage, complete with news
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covering and a troupe of followers. It was great to watch Harold develop both physically and mentally was he walked over 600 miles to see an old friend. We also get a look into the life of Harold's wife, as well as a close look at their past and marriage. It's a very human story, if you know what I mean. The characters are very real and very flawed, and it wasn't some instantaneous magical transformation that Harold experienced after his walk.

This book made me chuckle at times, and it certainly made me cry. It also made me really want to get up and do more with my life. Highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member smallwonder56
Harold Fry's story is a hero's journey. He starts out not knowing what he's *actually* doing and, in the process, finds himself.

An unexpected letter arrives from Queenie, a woman Harold worked with years before, telling Harold that she's dying and wanted to say goodbye. Harold writes an inadequate
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reply, sets out for the closest mail box, then the next closest, and then finds himself walking across England to see Queenie. He thinks that such a journey may save her, but it winds up saving him in many unexpected ways.

Those are the best journeys--the ones that we start innocently and wind up showing us how very like other people we are. We are reinforced in our humanity if we stay open to others and the unexpected.

The writing is wonderful, the characters are delightful, especially in the degree to which they grow and change. Harold's pilgrimage "saves" many others along the way, helping them find understanding and acceptance. It's warm, insightful, funny and makes you want to keep reading. Wonderful book.
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LibraryThing member thoughtbox
Not since Tolkien has so much walking been so exhaustively recounted, yet been almost completely tangential to the actual story. (And though there weren't any eagles, there were, like, cars and stuff to explain away.)

Harold is quintessentially British. I completely lost count of the times where he
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did something like walk into a shop and feel compelled to buy something because the worker was staring at him, and he was the reason they weren't able to close yet.

When he finds out an old friend with whom he's lost touch is dying of cancer, he finds that he can't find the words to say. I'd blame this on the Britishness, but I really don't know that any nationality has the proper phrasing for this, with exception of possibly hakuna matata, which is actually Swahili but not the phrasing anyone who speaks Swahili would actually use.


He goes to mail a trite letter, only when he gets to the postbox he decides he's going to walk to her instead. 600-some miles away.

That's probably enough of the plot. It's not about the destination, it's about the journey. Except it's not really about the journey, either. It's more about Harold's life, and the walk is a penance for all of it. It's purgatory for his wife, who's at home and has held Harold in a subconscious begrudging resentment. And it's a little slice of heaven for the neighbor, Rex, who hasn't had so utility for or interaction with other people in months.

The heartache and emotion that's screwed out of Harold with every step is riveting, if punctuated with several gut-punches. The plotting of the walk itself gets fairly repetitious, as Harold vacillates between rapture and despair with numbing regularity. But peoples' reaction to Harold, his walk and the inevitable nonsense that encircles all of it are eminently believable, especially in the age of social media. And the ending, while not exactly Disney-happy, feels satisfying and earned.

I'm not saying I'd want to read a whole trilogy about the walk (and we're already two-thirds of the way there), but it's worth the effort to amble through.
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LibraryThing member Carolee888
I had very high expectations for this book and it exceeded them! This is an unforgettable book. My husband is not a reader so I hope that this is eventually made into a movie. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce shines with love, heartbreak, grudges, quirkiness, growth and
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Harold Frye has retired and lives with his nagging wife Maureen in a small village in the south of England. They don't have friends, they barely talk to each other, they don't have hobbies, and they don't have any joy in life.

One day, Maureen calls for him, telling him that he has mail. The letter is from Queenie, a friend, in the past, who used to be the bookkeeper for the company that he worked for. She is saying goodbye. She is living in a Hospice and is dying from cancer. Harold writes a note to her and goes out to out in the mailbox but he has missed the mail pickup. What happens after that is a long physical journey and also a journey into his soul, his memories, his emotions and his thoughts. He meets people, some good, many quirky and some repulsive.

The characters are well drawn and as time goes on, they evolve, you begin to understand why the gulf between Harold and Maureen is so wide and so deep. There is a lot unsaid in their lives. That slowly comes out in the story. There are scenes that I will never forget, like the one between Harold and Queenie.

This is a story to savor, to treasure and to wonder about. I highly recommend it to people who like to examine their lives and learn from them.
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LibraryThing member LARA335
Harold receives an unexpected letter and finds himself delivering his response in person. This worked both as a tale about a retired man walking away from his narrow life to find himself, and as a reminder to the reader that positive change is always possible and to be mindful that everyone carries
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their own lonely burdens.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

8.55 inches


0812993292 / 9780812993295
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