When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, 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 else’s life.
Be warned, this is a pilgrimage so you’ll read your fair share of walking, blisters and other related injuries, especially as Harold is ill-equiped for the journey. On the outset, this is a mercy mission, but it turns out to be a journey of self-exploration.
As Harold explores his surroundings, he actually notices and appreciates things for the first time. So much in fact that he even memorizes his plant dictionary along the way. As he walks he remembers key moments in his life, a few happy or pleasant ones, but mostly painful, suppressed memories. This walk seems necessary for him to unpack his emotional baggage and come to terms with it all. The time apart is not only a period of reflection for Harold, but for his wife, Maureen too. The ups and downs in their marriage seem to sort themselves out, and their marriage seems strengthened.
It’s not all smooth sailing though, and Harold almost gives up a few times, but always returns to the walk. He meets people along the way, and is able to learn from all of them. Later Harold relies entirely on the kindness of others after sending all his unneccesary possessions (like his debit card) home to his wife. He faces severe mental, spiritual and physical challenges along the way – in the end he even questions whether it was worthwhile at all. One of the themes of the book is faith, but as Harold is not a spiritual person it is handled with severe caution, more questioning faith and the power thereof than being the cause of the pilgrimage in the first place.
This story is thoroughly enjoyable, though from time to time I started getting a bit antsy for more things to happen, or for things to happen faster. An endearing, sentimental story that stays with you, I found myself wanting Harold Fry to be real. This book is beautiful, and the message simple and clear: ordinary can be extraordinary.
Kelly from It’s a Book Thing chose this book as her winner. Read her review here.
UPDATE: The Judges and the Readers have placed their votes and they’ve been tallied! The Boeke winners are:
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce for Readers’ Choice
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn for Judges’ Choice
This review has been featured on Women24.