The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

13 June 2013
Written by Diana Kenny
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As Diana Kenny writes this months book follows Harold Fry on a journey of reject and self discovery as he literally and symbolically reclaims his life

Rachel Joyce, an accomplished actress, has written several plays for BBC Radio 4. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is her first novel and a very fine debut. 

Wikipedia defines a pilgrimage as a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.  Harold commences his journey after receiving a letter from a former work colleague, Queenie.  He has not heard of Queenie in twenty years after some mysterious incident caused her to leave the brewery where they both worked.

The letter is a farewell letter to Harold informing him that she is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, dying of cancer.  Harold sets out to post his reply and walks to the post box and then to the next post box, then the next and somehow does not stop until he reaches a garage where he buys a snack and has the conversation which serves as a catalyst for the journey. 

Harold is convinced that if Queenie knows he is coming to her she will hang on; it is a question of faith.  So he starts walking from Kingsbridge at the bottom of England to Berwick over the Scottish border.  It is a journey of 627 miles and it takes Harold, in his boat shoes, 87 days.

Along the road, as is the way with pilgrimages, it is the surroundings and people he encounters who provide him with inspiration. 

All is going well until he meets with a journalist, the resultant publicity changes the nature of the journey to almost circus like proportions and Harold has to find a way to lose them.

That is a synopsis of the book, but it is far deeper than that, along with his wife Maureen, Harold has been suffering  what can only be called a dark night of the soul.  Gradually we are led to understand the coldness that has come between them over a period of 20 years and the reasons for it.  While Harold is walking his way though his demons, Maureen gradually begins to view their life together in another light, her own pilgrimage.

The author has selected a popular topic for her novel, once again according to Wikipedia, in the early 21st century the number of people of all faiths making pilgrimages has continued to rise, with 39 of the most popular sites alone receiving an estimated 200 million visitors every year.  I myself have a hankering to do the Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

To quote Rachel Joyce, “This book has my heart in it.  I tried to write a story that wouldn’t quite fit the rules.  So that the reader might think they knew where they were and then discover they weren’t there after all.  I wanted to make the implausible, plausible after all.”

To my mind she has succeeded admirably.




0 #1 Angela Giddy 2013-06-20 20:30
Hi Diana - i can't wait to start this book, have finished my book club books for this month so it was great timing today to get your review. I have purchased the book online tonight, hope it arrives quick smart. Love Ange xxx

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