The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

Image from the Guardian

It’s late, and I didn’t get nearly enough work done today, and I should be ensuring that I get up early tomorrow, but I want to tell you about Harold Fry.

I knew he was going to be special since Joanna Cannon mentioned him, in her beautiful way.

Here’s the blurb:

When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife upstairs hoovering, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other.

He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone.

All he knows is that he must keep walking.

To save someone’s life.

The first line of the book is ‘The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.’ How could I not love it with an opener like that?  Harold receives a letter from an old colleague, Queenie, saying goodbye. She is dying. His short note back, written on Basildon Bond (tee hee) is not enough… he can’t bear to drop in into the post box. He walks to the next one. He walks to the post office. He keeps walking…

I am on my way.

All you have to do is wait.

Because I am going to save you, you see. I will keep walking and you must keep living.

Each chapter has a clear clue in the title and a lovely illustration.

Harold has just retired. He is not fit, he is not prepared for any kind of journey, yet he spontaneously (most out of character) decides to walk from the South of England, Devon, to Berwick-Upon-Tweed, at the top. He quickly becomes out of breath and blistered. He has to stay at a B and B. He is worried about his clothes stinking, and people hearing what he is doing. All the little set backs and injuries are realistic, they make us egg Harold on.

Joyce’s writing and metaphors are simply gorgeous. The story had me shedding tears twice. Harold has left his wife behind, they have grown distant, yet he phones her often and sends postcards. This is the first active thing that he has done in a long time. This journey is for Harold, and Maureen, and their son David, as much as it is for Queenie. The people Harold meets on the way are key in his self-reflection, and the way he sees the world.

This paragraph was among those that encouraged tears:

Harold sat in silence. The silver-haired gentleman was in truth nothing like the man Harold imagined him to be.  He was a chap like himself, with a unique pain; and yet there would be no knowing that if you passed him in the street…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.

Harold and my journey to Belfast, over the Glenshane Pass. On the 212 bus.

I don’t want to go on too much…I’m not able to do this wonderful book justice. I urge you to read it. Puzzle pieces of Harold’s life, and pain, slot into place as he makes his way ever closer to Queenie. Things aren’t fairy tale like, they are hard, and as I said, make us hope and wish for Harold even more. We may even realise things that will brighten and enlighten our own journeys. You will be better off for knowing Harold Fry.

A beautiful book.