If you have read my past reviews, it’s not difficult to realise that I struggle reading non-crime fiction. May be it’s the books I had hastily selected or it’s my own inability to enjoy books without murder and mayhem. If I remember correctly, the two non-crime books which I really enjoyed were The Book Thief and A Man called Ove. Joining this short list is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s a beautiful journey of hope, struggle, love and redemption. There is a lot of anguish but it’s a wonderful feeling when we see it end in a peaceful closure.
Harold Fry is a man in his 60s. Retired, he lives with his wife Maureen. A guilt ridden and serious man with a burden of a secret past, he suddenly receives a letter from his former colleague, Queenie Hennessy. It has been more than twenty years since she had left the job. She made no contact after that and Harold is taken aback to receive this letter. Queenie is suffering from cancer and has remembered him and the times they had spent together at work. Harold is wreaked with guilt and pain for haven’t thought about Queenie all these years especially after what she had done for him. He writes a reply and goes to the post office to post it, but he is unable to. He keeps walking, leaving his home behind, unable to get himself to post the reply. During his walk, he meets a girl who tells him how her aunt suffered from cancer and how her hope kept her alive. Harold gets an idea. He decides to go and meet Queenie, BY WALK, and hopes that Queenie will live till he reaches her, which would take weeks.
I know the idea sounds really absurd and very UNLIKELY. But that’s what the book is about. The hope that Harold carries is really impractical, but he still carries it because he completely believes it. Maureen is worried when Harold doesn’t come home and later gets to know about his unlikely pilgrimage. Initially she is angry, but later realises what a great feat her husband was getting towards. Harold and Maureen are going through a rough patch in life and this distance gets them closer. The portions where Maureen realises her love for Harold are so endearing.
Coming back to Harold, he experiences loads of difficulties in his journey. First is his age and health. His feet gets blistered, his legs give away. Second, he has no mobile, no map, and no other aid to help him find the right and the shortest route to Berwick, to Queenie. This is when the people he meets during his walk step up. Each one helps Harold in one way or the other, getting him closer to his destination. Each one has their own story to tell which inspires Harold to keep believing in his hope. There are moments he falters, where he feels his pilgrimage is a stupid idea but the people around him keep pushing him forward. At the same time, there are people who bring him down too, who takes wrong advantage and uses him for publicity, but that doesn’t deter Harold from his goal. Every character he meets is very unique. Wilf and Martina are my favourite. Harold and his son, David, don’t get along and hence Harold struggles when he sees David in Wilf. His emotional turmoil is very painful to even read. As he gets closer to Berwick, Harold loses hope. There is lot of anguish when he begins to lose his mind due to fatigue of his mind and body. The chapter when Harold finally meets Queenie and his thoughts then is beyond words. There is victory and yet there isn’t.
Though the story might sound depressing, it isn’t. The author had made sure to take the story as light as possible but keeping all the emotions intact. At the end of every chapter, you would want to know more about Harold’s journey which is victory to the author. The secret past is dealt very well too.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a book of redemption. It’s inspiring. You end up with a very good and positive feeling. Go for it!