The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

BOOK NOTES from the Fruitville Readers

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce 2013 A charming, gentle story of an ordinary man who makes an extraordinary journey adventure.

Harold Fry is a quiet, unassuming, 65-year-old man. People, including his wife, Maureen, think he is boring. He thinks he is boring. But one day, a letter arrives from someone from his past, Queenie Hennessey. He writes a card to her, starts walking to post the letter, and then just keeps walking and walking and doesn’t come home. Despite lacking physical ability for such an undertaking, inappropriate gear (“yachting shoes and yellow waxed cotton jacket”), and without a phone, he simply begins a pilgrimage to walk all the way to Berwick–600 miles in 87 days, a few miles each day.

No one can believe that he can do this, but as he walks he meets the kindest of strangers who applaud his journey. They ignore his age and unpreparedness, but they can “imagine something more beautiful than the obvious.” As the journey continues, it becomes more than a trip to Queenie. “Harrold understood that in walking to atone for mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others. The inhuman effort it took to be normal and everyday things that appeared easy.” It is also a “journey” from home for Maureen, as her mind and heart are opened to her true feelings.

The country of England itself is like a character in the book, with beautiful descriptions of the countryside and villages. A map is included at the beginning of the book, so the reader can follow his journey. I found myself cheering Harold as he begins to see his surroundings in new ways and even encouraging him aloud to carry on!

This poignant story evokes a bit of Forrest Gump walking across the country with a small mob following him. There are elements of humor, wisdom, sadness; tragedy and joy. Above all, his pilgrimage show us it is never too late for redemption and rediscovery. “Sometimes we are so busy living we don’t see the clues about living.” As a friend of mine says, “Life sometimes gets in the way.” But you cope and carry on.

I was enraptured by the story and loved every step that Harold took. This is a beautiful book, every step, every word, is unpretentious, unsentimental, and simple. “The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other, and a life may appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique, and this was the dilemma of being human.” A gentle story of hope and simple bravery, just putting one foot in front of another.