I particularly love it when a book comes attached to a personal story or memory, which is exactly the case with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. My journey towards owning the book, and the consequential loving and reviewing of it, is a fond one that will reside in my mind every time I lay eyes on the cover.
Out a few months ago for breakfast with the family, I figured it’d be nice to call a friend of mine to see if he fancied joining us. I knew it would’t be easy, so I put on my best, most convincing voice. After a few moans and groans, naturally, he agrees to drag his lazy ass up and indulge me. Great!
We ate, we laughed, and we paid the bill. (My treat- a tragic part of the bargain.) And then the worst happened. He wanted to go shopping. I HATE shopping, no matter how brief, and what’s more I’m stuffed to the brim from breakfast. I just want to get home, switch on the TV, and contemplate my decisions while my stomach threatens to pop the button on my jeans. And is if to make matters worse, he wants to do charity-shop shopping which, while marginally more enjoyable, takes a hell of a lot more humming-and-harring and mulling over decisions. I knew this, and he knew that I knew this, but he had me. I did, after all, drag him out for breakfast.
So we head into town with the quest ahead of us. He’s a man on a mission, a spring in his step and a newfound energy to boot, while I drag my heels reluctantly behind him. You’ve all heard of the gay-bestfriend? Well today I was the straight best friend. Straight-up role-reversal. And all of a sudden I’m a style advisor. Yeah I know, man of many talents. *shrugs*
Seconds turn into minutes, minutes turn into hours, or at least, that’s how it feels to me. From one shop to the next, appraising the finest, if somewhat dustiest, of the suit jackets on offer. This one’s too cream, but oh the fabric is lovely. But what about the cut? And ew that stitching’s seen better days. After around six and a half hours (twenty minutes) he comes to a decision, and we head over to the til with his new-old jacket while the bored cashier eyes us suspiciously. Seriously, it’s like she’s expecting us to pull guns out from under our coats and shoot up the place for whatever pound coins she’s taken that morning. But who can blame her? Who under fifty shops in charity shops anyway?
And that’s when I saw it. There on the small, secondhand book section right by the cashier. A shining gem in the dimly lit emporium of forgotten things. I swear I could see dust particles dancing around in the rays of light that emitted from this thing. A rare treasure indeed, lying unsuspectingly under my nose the whole time. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
I pick up the book curiously between my thumb and forefinger as if it were a piece of forensic evidence for bagging, while Jamie exchanged back and forth chitter-chatter with Professor McGonagall ringing up his items on her ancient til. Pretty sure she used a calculator…
Have you ever had an urge to just walk and keep walking until something clicks and you discover everything there is to know about yourself, figure out the meaning to it all, and unwrap the secrets of the universe all at once? To just be utterly and completely free from all constraints, all trappings of the modern world, and just exist in the face of whatever existing throws at you? Imagine moving from place to place on foot, sleeping and living by the land, surviving by the kindness of people and the work you’d do for them, exchanging stories and pleasantries and friendships along the way. It’s an unlikely fantasy I’ve romanticised for years, so when I see a title like this what am I gonna do but pick it up?
Needless to say I charm the cost of the book out of my friend (a whole, single, pound coin), and leave the shop with the yellowed book in tow and a smile on my face.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry Review
The Unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce follows the story of, you guessed it, Harold Fry. After receiving a letter from an old work friend explaining that she has cancer, he sets out to post one back. The sun’s shining, his wife is busying herself at home like she does, so he decides to walk to the next post box. And then the next. And the next. Before long he finds himself in a diner, eating a burger and talking to a stranger. The stranger inspires him, and as an act of faith he makes the decision to walk to the other side of the country to save Queenie Hennessy’s life.
I loved this book from cover to cover, and genuinely have nothing bad to say about it. The way Joyce uses scene breaks and character switches to manage pacing is expertly done, and the underlying stories of Harold Fry, his wife Maureen, and their son David, is revealed through a sequence of beautifully written memories and recollections throughout Harold’s journey. Everything he’s buried over the years, all the hurt, the disappointment, and the pain, comes bubbling up in a smooth and flowing masterpiece, until it comes together in an unavoidably tragic confrontation of the past.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is both a heart-warming and heart-breaking read, which carried me to the end without a second’s hesitation. I can confidently say that this book will stay with me for the rest of my life, and has earned its place in my favourites. If you’re in the market for a funny, tragic, charming, and exciting read, I can highly recommend this book. I promise you’ll thank me for it.
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Now over to you. Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments!