The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce
Bond Street Books, 320 pages
Ever since Harold Fry retired, one day seems to blend into the next. He wakes up in his southern English village, showers, shaves, gets dressed, eats breakfast, and then finds himself with nothing to do. His house is easy to maintain and he was never one for hobbies. He doesn’t know his neighbours especially well, keeps a polite distance from his disapproving wife, and hasn’t spoken to his son in twenty years. Life, if he’s being honest, seems rather cold and empty.
One day, as he is eating his breakfast and drinking his tea, he notices a delicate pink envelope in the morning post. He reaches over, opens the letter, and learns that Queenie Hennessy, a friend from long ago is dying of cancer at a hospice in northern England. Feeling an immediate sense of shame for the circumstances of their parting, Harold writes a reply, leaves the house and crosses the street to the mailbox. The sun is shining, there’s a light breeze in the air, and it feels good to be out walking. Harold decides to continue his walk and mail the letter at the gas station instead, where he meets a young girl who talks about the transformative power of faith and hope. According to her logic, if Harold can believe that Queenie can get well, then Queenie will get well. He owes his friend this much, so he makes up his mind then and there to walk the six hundred miles to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Harold quickly scribbles a postscript to let Queenie know he is on his way, mails the letter, and sets off.
To survive a six hundred mile journey on foot, Harold learns to rely on others. Food, shelter, and bandages all come from the kindness of the strangers he encounters on his journey, and through their generosity, Harold begins to see that people are mostly good. The pilgrimage becomes as much about healing Harold as it is about healing Queenie, and with new eyes, he is able to look at his own life and decide what is worth saving.
This is a story about outward and inward journeys, the importance of small kindnesses, and the chance to begin again. It will appeal to readers who enjoyed Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteredge.