Review – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

I know, I know, I’m profoundly late to the game. This was published in 2012 for heaven’s sake. But where in the rules does it say I can’t review older books? There are no rules!

To give you an indication of how much I enjoyed this: I started it yesterday morning on the bus, I finished it on my lunchbreak. This is the pinnacle of ‘impossible to put down.’

There is a particular genre of books that may or may not have an official name but I would call ‘books from the perspective of older people.’ This is certainly one of those, I would say it’s slightly more whimsical than the only other one I have read so far, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (2014). I think in recent years as we have an ageing population many of whom are suffering from varying mental and physical ailments, there’s a certain desire for older protagonists in books, we start to see those older people in our own lives in their places, on these adventures, the whole thing becomes much more personal.

But enough pontificating, what is the book like? One word, spectacular. But it is a kind of spectacular that does not require spectacle, Harold Fry is not one for big gestures (other than deciding to walk from Dorset to Berwick-Upon-Tweed on a whim but even that is understated), the other characters are all normal people. As someone who reads a lot of fantasy there is something wholly refreshing about a story of a man who uses his feet and his will and not much else.

While this story will, if you’re anything like me, leave you in tears at points, it is nevertheless an uplifting tale of hope, of faith in oneself, and of the power of perseverance. It is also a tale about people, about love, and about family and companionship. These are themes which could become clichéd but Joyce handles them so subtly and so effectively that you seem to find her themes on your own, with very little prompting from the prose, almost in the same way Harold finds his way across England.

The writing is phenomenal, I cannot stress that enough. It’s not an action-packed book but it draws you along all the same, you have to know how it ends. The one thing I would recommend is that, if you are geographically challenged, like myself, you get up a map and just look at the distance between Kingsbridge and Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Because I didn’t know how far it was until I looked it up and it makes the grandeur of the whole enterprise make a lot more sense.

Have you read this before? What did you think? Were you as engrossed as I was?

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