The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel

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Harold finds himself thinking about this girl's faith and realizing he has nothing similar in his life. He telephones the hospice where Queenie is living out her final days with a message. He says that he's setting out now to walk to the hospice and that Queenie should hang on until he arrives. He then begins to walk, wearing only the clothes he has on and using the limited items he has in his pocket. Harold telephones Maureen and she doesn't understand his mission or his reasoning. She initially lies to Rex, saying that Harold is laid up with a twisted ankle.

When she admits the truth to him, Rex becomes a friend and confidante, helping Maureen cope with the situation. As Harold walks, he and Maureen have time to think about their lives and how they came to their current place. Their son David died 20 years earlier. David was an incredibly intelligent young man but could never find his way.

Book by Rachel Joyce

He fell into a pit of alcohol and drug use, and then committed suicide. Harold blames himself, thinking that his own childhood left him ill-equipped to be a good father. Maureen blames Harold as well, thinking that he was basically an absent father who had nothing to do with David. Harold's father was an alcoholic and both believe that the genetics of alcoholism played a role in David's death. As Harold walks, he goes through a range of emotions. He talks to people and learns from their stories.

He deals with a large group who join him on his walk and derail him from his original purpose. He struggles with the pain of his mother leaving and his father becoming demented to the point that he didn't recognize Harold. He learns to accept all these things, and to accept David's death. Maureen also has time to realize that she has blamed Harold for things that weren't his fault.

She looks through pictures and sees that Harold is in many photos with David, indicating they spent more time together than Maureen remembered. She begins to open her heart again with the idea that she will change her life with Harold, when he returns to their home. When Harold reaches Queenie, he's shocked to find that she is near death.

Maureen joins him and they are together when they learn that Queenie has died peacefully. When they go to pay their last respects, Maureen and Harold face the loss together, a stark contrast to their attitudes when David died. They then spend time together and begin sharing memories as they prepare to take the next step into a new level of acceptance and happiness.

Read more from the Study Guide. Browse all BookRags Study Guides. So he decides to walk to visit Queenie. It is indeed a pilgrimage; a walk of faith. He truly believes with all his heart and soul that his walking will save her. Each day he walks will be one day longer that she lives. I've been in Harold's position albeit with a loved one but I didn't walk; I cleaned. So I understand Harold's mission. I know just where he is coming from. The belief Harold has in his walk is infectious; as I read on, I found a little voice in my head saying in my head: 'I hope she lives, I hope she lives'.


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Although his walk is basically a solitary one, he has some, mostly, wonderful encounters with strangers. But a solitary walk from one end of England to the other gives much time for retrospect. There are contemplations on his life with Maureen, painful reflections on his relationship with their son David and of course thoughts of Queenie. And, with no intent on his behalf, he becomes a minor celebrity: as he encounters people and towns, they cheer and barrack him on.

This spurs him on with renewed vigour. Having said that this is a lovely read, I will add that I found the last couple of chapters a bit harrowing: the letter to The Girl at the Garage and what he finds at the hospice particularly so. The ending is bitter-sweet; but I'm glad it was. I smiled in places and I cried in others; a big lump sat in my throat for the last ten or so pages.

Ultimately, Harold loses something but also finds something else that he has longed for. Rachel Joyce doesn't offer a warm, fuzzy read; your spirits will soar and they will plummet. If you're going to read anything, then read this wonderful book. Who knows, maybe we could all use a pilgrimage of our own? Harold Fry has never done the unexpected, having spent the last 65 years living a quiet sheltered life.

Retired for the last six months Harold shaves each morning and puts on a tie only to sit in the same chair with nowhere to go as his wife Maureen silently cleans. One day he recieves a letter from an woman from his past who informs him she is dying. Harold pens his reply only to be disappointed by his response so he makes a snap decision to walk across England from Kingsbridge to Berwick Upton Harold Fry has never done the unexpected, having spent the last 65 years living a quiet sheltered life.

Harold pens his reply only to be disappointed by his response so he makes a snap decision to walk across England from Kingsbridge to Berwick Upton Tweed to save her. With nothing but the clothes he is wearing and the small supplies he buys along the way Harold slowly makes his way across the country. Along the way Harold will initially be critical of himself as he sees himself alone in the world thanks to uncertainty that he had all throughout his life from a young boy, a father to David and then with a wife he no longer communicates with.

It's only when he begins going out of his comfort zone by talking to others along the way that he soon discovers the sad and beautiful truth that he is not alone and there are many people just like him that are struggling to put one foot infront of the other. But for all the profound sorrow Harold encounters this is not a sad read.

Rather it suggest that new beginnings can always be found and it is never to late to do something extroidinary. British playwright Rachel Joyces first novel is an endearing debut full of emotion. I found myself riding all the emotions with Harold and was willing him on all the way. At the heart of this is a story of a simple man, a threadbare marriage and a fractured country.

All of this makes for an unforgettable and thoughtful story. Do yourself a favour and take a walk with Harold a simple man who will get into your heart and leave you with a smile from ear to ear. View all 10 comments. Mar 08, Julie rated it it was amazing Shelves: worthy-of-another-read , favorite-books , you-ll-need-a-hankie.

A pilgrim is a traveler who is on a journey to a holy place. He's a year-old recent retiree who hasn't seen his son or slept in the same room as his wife in twenty years. He had even made a mess of being a son. It wasn't simply that he had betrayed Queenie his co-worker and friend , and that his parents did not want him.

It wasn't simply that he had made a mess of everything with his wife and son. It was rather that he had passed through life and left no impression. He meant nothing. In this letter, Queenie reveals that she is in a hospice in Northern England at the border of Scotland , and that she is dying of a terminal cancer. She simply wanted to thank him for his years of friendship and bid him farewell.

But, preposterous though it may seem, Harold is provoked. Provoked by her letter. Provoked to start the unlikeliest pilgrimage to Queenie Hennessey's hospice on the other side of England. As readers, we don't know why he wants to do it, and we don't understand how he's going to succeed, but nonetheless, he starts walking. It is through this trek, this unlikely pilgrimage , that we come to know him, to see him. We come to know his wife, Maureen, back at the house, too. And we, all of the travelers on this journey, take this holy trek, too.

This is a true pilgrimage: painful, poignant, and humorous. I wanted him to explain things to me, like, can you fix a marriage, once it's been shattered, and how do you win back the love of a grown child who has turned his face away from yours, and what, after all, is the true meaning of our existence? I followed Harold to the very end of this story, which is also a beginning, and I sobbed like a baby through every step.

This book is a gift, and I received it. We have not even to risk the adventure alone. The heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero's path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world. Joseph Campbell View all 40 comments.


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Jul 06, Jenny Reading Envy rated it liked it Shelves: read , location-uk , audiobook , booker-winners-and-listed. I fear I am heartless. Some people I respect as readers give this book five stars and I just can't. Basically, it is about a man taking a walk. Beginning, middle, end. He gets bad news about an old friend and just starts walking, wearing the wrong kind of shoes and without bringing his 'mobile.

So, I get that, but it didn't poke through my tough exterior, I guess. You have my permission to call me heartless. I listened to t I fear I am heartless. I listened to the audio, which may be partly to blame for the plodding pace to the book. Still, Jim Broadbent was a great reader. I shall have to try to find him reading something else! This book was on the longlist for the Booker, but didn't make the shortlist. One book that did is also about a walk, but has far more complexity and emotional range.

I'd recommend it entirely. The Lighthouse I'm noticing that lately, books about humdrummity are really getting to me. I need some profundity and depth, or lacking that, some interesting characters with interesting lives. Some of Harold's observations: "Life was very different when you walked through it.

View all 25 comments. Shelves: quest , inspirational , redemption , heartwarming , uplifting , gentle-humour. Attention all yacht shoe wearers! Please unite for this wonderfully heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking tale of loss, sorrow and redemption. Seriously, WTF? It may be true that TUPOHF is more likely to be better-received by mature readers and would also appeal to Anglophiles who are the wrong side of forty effectively old gits, Attention all yacht shoe wearers!

It may be true that TUPOHF is more likely to be better-received by mature readers and would also appeal to Anglophiles who are the wrong side of forty effectively old gits, similar to myself , but come on! Unworldly Englishman, Harold Fry, a retired brewery salesman pops out to post a sympathy letter to an old work colleague Queenie , who resides miles away.

But instead of doing this, he spontaneously heads off in her faraway direction, wearing clothes that are better-suited for a trip to the local garden centre. In an unconscious attempt to exorcise his own demons, his accidental journey somehow becomes an inspirational, perhaps heroic, pilgrimage. There is something delightfully Quixotic about his unrealistic quest, and readers of this story will find themselves walking with him, in spirit, each painful step of the way. The crudeness of modernity and the grunge of the great outdoors are the antithesis of his usually disciplined existence; the fractiousness of other members of society offers a comedic contrast to Harold's unfailing innocence.

Joyce optimistically recognises the kindness of strangers, who are happy to contribute to a good cause; although because I am English I would have at least expected a box of KFC bones to have been hurled at his head from a passing car, or for a farmer to have gurgled, "Get off my land! So, if raw life experiences have left you mature beyond your years, or if you're a wrinkled old coffin-dodger, about to pop your clogs, this might be right up your street! And please abandon whatever it is you're reading. Release your inner Harold and join his pilgrimage! View all 45 comments. Oct 13, M rated it did not like it.

What the heck, Goodreads?? What the HECK? Though I did not finish this, I feel that is proof enough of this book's ridiculousness. What is it with you people? I mean seriously?? Let's What the heck, Goodreads?? Let's start with the writing. We have a nine year old's perception of old people, and small town life, and cancer.

The wife is an irritated, fussy woman. The husband is dottering and boring. Have you ever apologized? It ain't small I'll tell you that. Wow, really? Even though you crossed the street? You mean that didn't work? Then we have the "plot. Keep reading!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce - Book video trailer

Says the offended goodreads rater. You never know! Yeah but sometimes you do. View all 47 comments. Sep 26, Michael rated it it was amazing Shelves: fiction , grief , travel , england.

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I loved the purity and spare beauty of this sad but uplifting tale. At first I wondered how I could possibly get involved in this apparently absurd story. A retired salesman for a brewery receives a letter of goodbye from an old friend, Queenie, who is dying of cancer, and, on the way to the mailbox with a return reply, ends up setting out on a mile walk to visit her. I liked how his journey begins to get some flow out of the frozen river of his life: In walking, he freed the past that he had spent twenty years seeking to avoid, and now it chattered and played through his head with a wild energy that was his own.

He no longer saw distance in terms of miles. He measured it with his remembering. Harold pictured the gentleman on a station platform, smart in his suit, looking no different from anyone else. 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. Rain began to patter on the roof and against the tarpaulin, but it was a gentle sound, full of patience, like Maureen singing David to sleep when he was little. When the sound stopped he missed it, as of it had become part of what he knew. He felt there was no longer anything substantial between himself and the earth and the sky.

Joyce seems effortlessly eloquent in capturing feelings we all have about our insignificance: His footprints, however firm, would be washed away by rain. It was as if he had never been in any of the places he had been, or met the strangers he had met. He looked behind, and already there was no trace, no sign of him anywhere. I was quite moved by the resolution of the tale. View all 27 comments. Nov 21, Alison rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Pilgrims.

Recommended to Alison by: Dini. I have to begin by being perfectly honest which is, I feel, not only in keeping with the spirit of this book, but also the way that Harold would have wanted it. I feel like a " Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human. I feel like after what he's been through and having proved himself to be more than ordinarily resilient, that Harold can take the truth.

For a while this book really irritated me. It wasn't that I found the characters unbelievable--I actually found them all to be very real and human. It wasn't the setting, the writing, or the pacing of the story-telling. It was the actual walking, or, as the title calls it--the pilgrimage. For the longest time I just didn't understand why Harold didn't hitch a ride, take a bus, hop a train or even get on a horse. The walk to me seemed impractible, unfeasible, and completely unrealistic.

It seemed like a mere plot gimmick--hey! I'll write a book about a guy who decides to walk. Forest Gump. I just kept thinking He just starts walking and he doesn't stop. People join in along the way. He becomes famous. He runs, and it isn't about the destination, it's about the journey.

Been there, seen that. But somewhere toward the end, this author really pulled this story together for me. There is an effective twist, that was the most heartbreaking part of the story for me, that made me realize Harold had been through circumstances that might render a man quite mad I also came to better terms with the metaphorical ramifications of Harold's walk and I quit being so dang literal and worrying about Harold sleeping out on the highway with the foxes without bathing, and I started looking more inward to Harold and his tortured soul.

Harold's interaction with Queenie, near the end, is one of the most chilling encounters I have read in fiction. But it was so real, and so true, and so meaningful, I fell for the book all at once, right there at its very close. So if someone asked me what I liked about Harold Frye doing all that walking or what I got from reading about Harold and the circumstances that shaped him until he finally was able to throw them all off there on the side of England's highways I would first say that I think the author meant for us to realize how we all carry our own particular burdens.

That is rather obvious in the characters that Harold encounters and how they had their own unique crosses to bear. People were buying milk or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. That we all have to come face to face with our ghosts, and that doesn't happen on our own time.

It happens on it's on natural course undetermined by us much like all aspects of our lives. I am reminded of the courage it takes to face our demons, and how we cannot begin to live fully, openly, or honestly until we have looked them dead in the eyes, no matter how difficult or implausible the journey is that takes us to meet them. View all 14 comments. This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time.

It is interesting that some see it as highly uplifting, others as rather downbeat. Me, I see it as a work that truly reflects the regrets, the wasted opportunities and the terribly constricted lives that so many people experience. It made me think about my own mistakes, missed opportunities and the things I could do to make a difference in my own life which makes this book rather more powerful than a typical novel.

Harold Fry lives quiet This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time. Harold Fry lives quietly in retirement with his wife Maureen when he receives an unexpected letter through the post from Queenie, a woman he worked with 20 years previously who he has not seen since. Queenie tells him that she is dying of cancer. Harold writes a brief letter of condolence, goes to the postbox to send to her, walks past the postbox and then ends up walking for weeks from Devon to Berwick On Tweed to see her. The book takes in a range of characters, sends Harold on not just a physical journey but a mental one too full of highs and almost desperate lows as he has so much time to reflect on his life and all that has happened in it.

Maureen too has time to reflect without the presence of her husband. The book accurately depicts what can happen when people either choose to change or are forced to change their situation. The ending is thoroughly heart-wrenching. I am not ashamed to say that I cried a number of times in the last 50 pages as the truth of their lives slowly emerges and the final meeting with Queenie takes place. I would urge anyone to read this book - it is not an easy read and even for a seasoned reader it will surprise at points in time from plot development to the effect on one's emotions.

In the end there are opportunities for new beginnings but you never get the sense of a simply saccharine 'happy ever after' conclusion. A wonderful achievement by Rachel Joyce View all 8 comments. It was an ordinary morning in mid-April that smelled of clean washing and grass cuttings. Harold Fry sat at the breakfast table, freshly shaved, in a clean shirt and tie, with a slice of toast he wasn't eating.

He gazed beyond the kitchen window at the clipped lawn, which was spiked in the middle by Maureen's telescopic washing line, and trapped on all three sides by the neighbours closeboard fencing. The vacuum cleaner tumbled into silence, and his wife appeared, looking cross, with a letter. She sat opposite Harold. Maureen was a slight woman with a cap of silver hair and a brisk walk. When they first met, nothing pleased him more than to make her laugh. To watch her neat frame collapse into unruly happiness. He didn't know what she meant until she slid an envelope across the table, and stopped it just short of Harold's elbow.

They both looked at the letter as if they'd never seen one before. It was pink. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce's remarkable debut. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.. Not a romance, because there is a difference you know, but a love story. Often, as with the case of Maureen and Harold, we lose sight of the person we fell in love with. We become obsessed with keeping the house clean, and the lawns mown, with the minutiae of daily life.

And perhaps we lose sight of ourselves, too. Perhaps this is also a coming-of-age story for, although Harold is in his 60's when he goes off to post his letter to Queenie Hennessy and instead embarks on his unplanned journey, this is really about Harold rediscovering himself. This is a book we should all read, and revisit regularly, just to remind ourselves what is really important in life. In she won the Tinniswood Award for best radio play. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions. Please refer to my Goodreads. This review and others are also published on my blog sandysbookaday.

Nov 09, Gabriela Silva rated it it was amazing. I'm so glad I took the time to read it. I loved the writing style! May 11, Angela M rated it it was amazing.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

I have recently reread parts of this book in conjunction with reading The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and I am revising my rating from 4 to 5 stars. View all 21 comments. Each slow step, each blister, each new person Harold meets reveals something of the truth of his life to him and to us. An unwanted, neglected boy grew up to be an unremarkable man. But for a brief instant, he frolicked at a dance and attracted the loveliest girl, Maureen. They dreamed and planned and married. They made a lovely home with veggie gardens and had one son, David.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry Summary & Study Guide Description

Harold worked at the brewery for 45 years for an obnoxious bully of a boss like his father , but Harold learned early to escape notice by fading into the woodwork. Queenie Hennessey worked in finances at the brewery and was an equally unremarkable person. Harold used to drive her to inspect the books of regional pubs. Suddenly, after many years, she was fired and disappeared. We sense unfinished business. Now, twenty years later, Harold has received a letter from her saying she is in a hospice, dying of inoperable cancer.

Harold is disconsolate that he never got to say good-bye. Jam is red. This is not a stop-and-smell-the-roses parable about how to overcome cancer with positive thinking or how to find yourself by following a quest. This is a specific story about the peculiar forces that caused this relationship to form and disintegrate. He and Maureen became more and more estranged as David grew up and left home and rejected them. Harold writes Queenie a letter and sets off to post it. The letter rested on the dark mouth of the post box.

You have to believe a person can get better. But, you see, if you have faith, you can do anything. I mean. He can give that! He finds a phone, rings the hospice and announces he is walking to see Queenie and they must please tell her to wait for him. I will keep walking and she must keep living. He shares his story with everyone who asks, and they in turn, share their deepest fears — as passengers on a plane do.

Old ladies at tea who offer encouragement , professional trekkers who offer walking and camping tips , kindly villagers who offer food and sometimes a bed. I loved the descriptions of the landscape, the weather and the towns as well as the beautiful illustrations by Andrew Davidson. For me, it was particularly interesting reading this because I had just read Us , the story of a man trekking across Europe after his son, which had the same impulsiveness and blisters and a difficult relationship between father, mother and son.

That was their glue. My reviews of those two are below. Haunted by buried memories and words left unsaid he takes a first literal step and then man 4. For me it was like getting lost in an adult fairy tale and I loved suspending reality for two days and following along as a pilgrim watching the progress.

I would have liked to read this one for book club and some good discussion. It is always possible. View all 15 comments. Sep 12, Darlene rated it it was amazing. It's a wonderful experience to come across a book that makes you think or one that takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions; but every once in awhile you discover a book that does both The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of those books for me.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry Summary & Study Guide

Harold Fry is an ordinary older man who has recently retired from his lifelong rather ordinary job. He spends his days in a regimented, very structured kind of way with his wife of many years, Maureen. It was on one of those ordinary days It's a wonderful experience to come across a book that makes you think or one that takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions; but every once in awhile you discover a book that does both It was on one of those ordinary days that harold received a letter from an old co-worker and friend,Queenie Hennessy, telling him that she has terminal cancer and wishing to say goodbye.

Harold, being an unemotional and non-demonstrative sort of man, felt very uncomfortable with Queenie's letter; however, he wrote back replying that he was sorry and wished her well. He set out that morning to mail the letter Along the way, Harold engaged in conversation with a young woman about how important it is to have faith..

It was in that moment that Harold seemed to awaken from what seemed a deep sleep.. Harold believed On the surface, Harold's idea may seem crazy but it began to make a lot of sense. Harold and Queenie were embodiments of the idea that belief in something , combined with sheer will can actually make things happen. And so Harold's journey began Although Harold started out as a sort of fearful, underachieving ,ordinary man..

Reading Harold's story reminded me of a quote by Mark Twain



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