Friday, February 10, 2017

My review of Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a novel for anyone who has ever wanted a do-over but did not know how to attain one. You would not need to trek 627 miles, including detours, from the south of England to the north, as Harold Fry did. But you would likely need to make the soul-searching journey he made as he walked to see a former friend who was dying. His pilgrimage was motivated by regret that he had not told her something. The reader does not learn until the very end of the book what that something was.

As Harold walked north alone, he examined himself and his past with more honesty than he had in his normal, comfy routine at home. Painful and happy memories sprang unbidden to his mind. He questioned past behaviors, for example: Why hadn’t he held his son more? He faced and triumphed over myriad fears. He forgave.

As he met people along the way, he learned new ways of looking at relationships, and he tried out new behaviors. All his life, he had generally been passive and quiet, and now he cheerfully greeted people, for instance. Harold learned to depend on people because he had left home with only the clothes on his back, and on a trek such as his, he needed things he had not planned on.

Blisters on his feet and muscle pains in his legs, which others helped him cope with, seemed symbolic of the inner wounds surfacing and ultimately healing. Back at home without him and their habits of 47 years of marriage, Harold’s wife Maureen conducted her own parallel inner journey. Her changes to their home also symbolized her inner changes.

At one point a bit later in the journey, scraggly, ragged, middle-aged Harold became somewhat of a celebrity in England. Strangers joined his pilgrimage for reasons of their own. The resulting chaos was the author’s spot-on, often humorous, characterization of ridiculous human instincts.

I read this book in only two sittings; I didn’t want to put it down. Harold is a protagonist I rooted for. His secret I wanted to find out. Always a kind and simple man, he became kinder and simpler on this journey. His humbling pilgrimage humbled me. And story after story of bizarre and wonderful people he met—fascinating! The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is engaging and thought-provoking. Bravo, Rachel Joyce!

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