Book of the Week

stacey_mbApril 11, 2013

The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry : a novel / Rachel Joyce.

Wikipedia defines pilgrimage as follows: A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.

This is a novel about two very ordinary people, Harold and Maureen Fry. Harold has retired six months before, and he and Maureen are marooned in boredom and a distance in their relationship. The only substantial discussions Maureen has are with their absent son, David. ItâÂÂs not clear through much of the novel if she speaks to him on the telephone or with his imagined presence. One day, a letter arrives for Harold from a former co-worker, Queenie Hennessy. He has not spoken to her since she left work 20 years before, and now she writes to let him know that she has inoperable cancer. Harold writes a letter in return, but during the course of walking to the mailbox, he decides to walk to the hospital to see Queenie in person. The hospital is several hundred miles away, and so begins HaroldâÂÂs pilgrimage.

A reader can ask themselves several questions near the beginning of the novel - during his walk, Harold sends letters and postcards to Queenie asking her to hold on, not to die, that he is on his way. Why does he feel so urgently that she not die before he gets there, if they have not seen each other for 20 years? We already know by this point that they did not have a romantic relationship. In addition, if he is very intent on arriving before her death, why does he make a slow trek by walking and not travel by motorized transport? And where is David, the son of Harold and Maureen? Does he even exist?

The answers are revealed during HaroldâÂÂs pilgrimage. Details are revealed by Maureen also, for although she stays at home, she too goes on a pilgrimage.

This is a poignant and touching novel about dealing with loss and grief. It shows ordinary folk engaging in a search for spiritual and moral healing, and receiving forgiveness and redemption. This is not in a religious sense, as Harold explains, he is not a religious person. I was very moved by this novel and appreciated the âÂÂreaderâÂÂs pilgrimageâ I experienced in reading this book.

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I just read this too. It was delightful. I was concerned that the ending wouldn't maintain the integrity of the rest of the book. I worried for nothing - it was absolutely fitting and one of the best endings I've read.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 12:17PM
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Thank you for your feedback, Skibby. Yes, that's one of the things I enjoyed about the book too that it maintained its integrity throughout. I liked that the characters also stayed "in character" and I agree, what a nice ending to the book.

How did you hear about this book? Do you belong to a book club?

For myself, this is another "Oprah recommended" book, and I don't belong to a book club, although I am considering joining one.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2013 at 4:34PM
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Stacey - I think I found out about it on the Books and Reading forum on GW. I don't belong to a book club presently but I have in the past. They can be lots of fun and they all seem to work a little bit different.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 12:32PM
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My reaction may be different because I am *old*! Seeing characters come to life *eventually* still means their best days were thrown away.

Reconsidering the story, I think of the lives ruined by Harold's early-murdered and late-revived Self. As much as he was to be pitied, he was still a blight on the lives of his wife, child and friend.

I couldn't understand why Maureen married Harold -- or martyred herself by staying with him, especially in their early years. Her attraction was supposedly based on a brief moment in which he *expressed* himself -- dancing. We are to believe he only regained a sense of self after he stumbled into his self-appointed savior role. (That's a LOT of empty years!)

Harold's need for his work friend to 'stay alive' bothered me a lot. Neither he nor the the equally thoughtless cheerleaders of his 'cause' gave a thought to Queenie's suffering -- or that SHE might have been better served by his getting to her bedside immediately.

Queenie is yet another 'fringe' character, living on the memory of having been loved only as a child -- and her horrible, prolonged death. How *convenient* that Harold was so late to her bedside that they could not converse.

Yes, the ending speaks of the possibility of a fuller life for Harold and Maureen. Do you believe they can sustain Change once they settle back in the old homestead? That's a far stretch for me. (I am not religious, so perhaps I've missed a 'message' in the book.)

At least they'll be able to see out their windows again!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 12:00PM
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Thank you for your comments, Chisue. Your feedback raises points that I hadn't thought about! Now that makes me want to read the book again, with your comments in mind this time. As a lover of literature, I think it's important to look at all aspects of a book. This is what I do miss about not being in a book club.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 1:59PM
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Stacey -- I'm glad you found something to like about my mostly negative comments. I did enjoy reading the book, but afterwards...I had my doubts. I'm not sure about the author's intent, and we can never be sure how much editing for sales may have changed a book.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 2:25PM
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Chisue - people's reading experiences are so individual, that it's not surprising there would be different opinions about this book! I'm always interested in adding to my reading list - what are some of your favorite books?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 10:56PM
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