The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A Novel

Book - 2012
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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.

Advance praise for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
"When it seems almost too late, Harold Fry opens his battered heart and lets the world rush in. This funny, poignant story about an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey moved and inspired me."--Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank
"There's tremendous heart in this debut novel by Rachel Joyce, as she probes questions that are as simple as they are profound: Can we begin to live again, and live truly, as ourselves, even in middle age, when all seems ruined? Can we believe in hope when hope seems to have abandoned us? I found myself laughing through tears, rooting for Harold at every step of his journey. I'm still rooting for him."--Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
"Marvelous! I held my breath at his every blister and cramp, and felt as if by turning the pages, I might help his impossible quest succeed."--Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
"Harold's journey is ordinary and extraordinary; it is a journey through the self, through modern society, through time and landscape. It is a funny book, a wise book, a charming book--but never cloying. It's a book with a  savage twist--and yet never seems manipulative. Perhaps because Harold himself is just wonderful. . . . I'm telling you now: I love this book."--Erica Wagner, The Times (UK)
"The odyssey of a simple man . . . original, subtle and touching."--Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life
Publisher: Toronto : Bond Street Books, c2012.
ISBN: 9780812993295
Branch Call Number: FICTION JOY
Characteristics: 320 p. : map ; 22 cm.


From the critics

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Oct 07, 2017

For all the acclamation this book has received, I was disappointed. It is depressing, a pathetic man deciding to walk 500km to honour an old friend. Fine, but to do it at the cost of his own health was plain stupidity. The fact it turned out to be a voyage of self-discovery was of some merit, but negated by his self-pity. Did not like or admire Harold Fry the man.

Librarian_Deb Aug 28, 2017

I got a little choked up at the end of this book--always a sign that the author is a good writer!
It starts out with Harold Fry getting a letter in the mail--a letter from an old friend who has cancer and is in hospice. That letter sets him off on a journey that takes him across the length of England--from south to north on foot. It also sets him off on an inner journey of remembering the events of his past, which are mostly painful and full of regrets. The walk he takes seems to be his way of atoning for the past, or at least dealing with what happened, as much as a way to get to his friend who is dying. How Harold's choices affect his wife Maureen, and how the people he meets along the way affect him also form important themes in the book.
I read this book with my book discussion group, and we had a lively talk as we analyzed Harold's choices and how the events of the book played out. I would highly recommend this book to discussion groups, and to anyone who enjoys a moving and well written story.

CRRL_MegRaymond Jul 25, 2017

Harold gets a letter from an old love which contains shocking news. He decides he has to hand-deliver his answer, even though she lives halfway across the country.

Mar 26, 2017

I enjoyed Rachel Joyce’s gems of insight into the foibles and triumphs of humanity, despite the plodding, linear storyline with many cameo appearances by other characters. The protagonist is without a sense of identity. But his walk to the other end of England is an act of atonement, and along the way he encounters his pathetic past and finds his essence – his Self. “Pilgrimage” seems an apt word.

Mar 24, 2017

A good story with a surprise ending. I did not appreciate the crude language she uses at times. Surely with her vocabulary she could have chosen less offensive words to use.

Feb 12, 2017

Oh, Harold. Just get on a bus and go see her. Why all that walking with bad shoes? A sympathetic character and a satisfying ending, but many, many points throughout the journey just had me shaking my head. Luckily the majority of my book club agreed with me, so I am not the only one (contrary to the reviews on this site!)

Dec 09, 2016

The power of believing you can make a difference leads unassuming Harold on a walk across Britain to say goodbye to a friend from many years ago. There’s no planning and Harold is ill-prepared to walk, but he does, sending post cards to his friend from many years ago who is dying of cancer. Harold is the perfect anti-hero. He doesn’t want all the media attention his walk has attracted, he doesn’t want the throngs of people who want to join him. He just wants to tell his friend goodbye and thank you. As he walks and reflects, Harold’s life takes shape and you see why his marriage and his relationship with his son has become frayed. But Harold’s belief in the need to tell his dying friend goodbye, leads to much more.

Aug 17, 2016

Loved this story and the characters. Kept me riveted throughout. Would recommend to others who enjoy an emotional read.

Jun 30, 2016

Reading the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was like going through a long way of life. It's such a touching story and I really moved and cried for the David part.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 03, 2016

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.

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Jun 03, 2016

"Life was very different when you walked through it." (p. 40)
"Harold thought of the people he had already met on his journey. All of them were different, but none struck him as strange. He considered his own life and how ordinary it might look from the outside, when really it held such darkness and trouble." (p. 143)

PimaLib_SherrieB Nov 15, 2014

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.

Nov 29, 2013

They believed in him. They had looked at him in his yachting shoes, and listened to what he said, and they had made a decision in their hearts and minds to ignore the evidence and to imagine something bigger and something infinitely more beautiful than the obvious.

Dec 27, 2012

“He understood that in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others. As a passerby, he was in a place where everything, not only the land, was open. People would feel free to talk, and he was free to listen. To carry a little of them as he went. He had neglected so many things that he owed this small piece of generosity to Queenie and the past.”

Dec 27, 2012

“It must be the same all over England. People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.”

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Jun 13, 2015

Thehippogirl25 thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over

May 21, 2014

hbrewer thinks this title is suitable for 40 years and over

DanglingConversations thinks this title is suitable for 40 years and over


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APlazek Feb 27, 2013

This quiet novel from a new author feels very reserved and British (and it is). Harold Fry receives a letter from an old co-worker who he has not spoken with in over 20 years informing hm that she has terminal cancer. Upon reading the letter Harold knows he must espond so he crafts a letter and heads out to post it, but along the way meets a girl working in a gas station and explains about the letter. The girl tellls about her aunt who had cancer and says, "You have to believe.... trusting what you don't know and going for it." Something from that conversation touches him and Harold decides he must walk to the Queenie Hennessy -- if he walks she will not die befroe he gets there. The story is mysterious and sparse yet incredibly inspiring and heartwarming. Slowly along the way the story of Harold's relationship with his wife unfolds and we learn about their son, David in bits and pieces. It is not until the end that everything comes together and it is a sad picture of how much time can be wasted with misunderstanding and hurt, yet hope remains.


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