The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry — my review

I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to reading this novel based only on its description. I was afraid it would be silly or trivial. Instead, I found a thought-provoking mix of humor, sorrow and self-discovery.

Harold Fry doesn’t have much personality at the start of this novel, a retiree without much motivation and a harpy of a wife, he didn’t seem protagonist material. However, I very quickly understood that his pilgrimage would involve a good deal of self-exploration. I was intrigued by his commitment to just put one foot in front of another as a means to ensure survival.

Rachel Joyce does an admirable job with Harold’s story. Of course I knew that he would succeed and that he would come out a better man, yet I did not anticipate all the detours. He doesn’t travel easily from one milestone to the next, but instead circles round and round.

What had been so clear to him when he was alone, two feet on the ground, became lost in this abundance of choices and streets and glass-fronted shopping outlets. He longed to be back in the open land.”

As long as he is walking in open space, his path seems simple. But, of course, that doesn’t make for exciting story-telling so Joyce mixes in characters and landmarks and setbacks to challenge Harold’s simple journey.

Walking the road already travelled was even harder. It was like not moving at all. It was worse, like eating a part of himself.”

These are the elements that make the book much more interesting. Harold’s wife makes her own journey without walking that I found both heart-breaking and inspiring.

It would be so easy to stop getting up. To stop washing. To stop eating. Being alone required such constant effort.”

My complaint would be that Rachel Joyce doesn’t trust her readers (or her own writing) well enough. Portions of this book are so overwritten that I could actually feel the author’s message hitting me over the head. Still, it was an overall enjoyable read.

Advanced Reader Copy provided by Random House.

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