Friday Reads: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

One of my favorite things about my book club is the brilliant books I get to experience that I might not have otherwise read. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is one such book. 

First, a brief synopsis:

Harold Fry is a recently retired Englishman who is plodding through life with a distant wife and disdainful son. One day, Harold receives a letter from an old colleague he hasn’t seen in 20 years, only to learn she’s dying of cancer. As Harold sets out to mail a letter back to her, he just keeps walking – walking toward the hospice where she lays dying, in the vain hope that, if he reaches her in time, he can stop her from dying. Harold’s journey across the country leads him to new places, new people, and new realizations about his life and marriage. 

I’m starting to think I either love all books or that my friends have fantastic taste, because just like the other books I’ve reviewed, I loved this one. I was drawn in immediately and finished it in a single sitting.

The characters weren’t necessarily likeable, but they were real. Harold starts off on his cockamamie journey with nothing but the clothes on his back, and the planner in me was so frustrated with him (just like I might feel frustrated about my own husband.) Harold’s wife Maureen is completely passive-aggressive, and the reasonable woman in me was so frustrated with her (though the unreasonable woman in me totally related.)

But as Harold’s journey progressed, so did the characters. As hard as he tries to avoid notice, Harold meets people along the way who help him in his trek – and who help him come to terms with the way his life has turned out. Harold starts his journey as a bit of a useless man, but as he walks, he learns to take care of himself and have faith that things will work out.

The most striking change, however, was in Maureen. Right from the start, she seems like a total shrew, but as the story of her crumbling marriage is uncovered, you can’t help but to feel compassion for this woman whose life didn’t go quite the way she planned. Maureen spent years fanning the flames of her secret hurts, but when faced with the absence of her husband, she sees that she can either hang on to the past and remain miserable, or let go and find happiness again.

I enjoyed the sense that, no matter who you are, you can accomplish anything – even a 500-mile trek – if you just decide to do it. But even more, I enjoyed the sense that no relationship is so broken that genuine forgiveness can’t fix it.

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