The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human. -- from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry, a sixty-five year old British retiree receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, a long lost friend and former coworker who once did Harold a big favor. The letter reveals that Queenie is in a hospice center, dying.
Shaken by the news, Harold pens a response. But when he sets off to mail his reply at the corner post box, he is suddenly inspired to deliver the letter in person - 500 miles away. Leaving behind his stale, stagnant life, including a wife, Maureen, who is bothered by practically everything Harold says and does, he impulsively leaves his small English village--on foot, without a map or his mobile phone; he's wearing shoddy sneakers--and begins the journey to reach his dying friend. He comes to believe that as long as he keeps walking, Queenie will wait for him and continue to live.
Harold isn't the only pilgrim in this story. Queenie is taking her own solitary pilgrimage through a fatal illness. In Harold's absence, Maureen begins to sort through the past in order to discover the real reason why she and Harold have grown apart. And the people Harold meets along the way, those with stories of their own hardships and struggles, encourage Harold to reflect and delve deeper into the meaning of his existence and as a result, reconcile the deeply repressed regrets of his own life.
Pretty soon, Harold is no longer walking the length of England alone. When the press gets wind of his quest, other people join the pilgrimage and Harold begins to feel crowded out by all the fuss. Can Harold maintain his focus on what he originally set out to do? Does he have the physical stamina? And can his walking, an act of faith, save Queenie Hennessy?
Rachel Joyce has written a moving, compulsively readable novel infused with a well-balanced combination of humor and pathos. By exposing the emotional wounds of a host of ordinary people who are all trying to navigate through the challenges of life, Joyce taps into universal themes about the moral and spiritual ways in which we atone and seek to save ourselves...insights that stretch far beyond the ultimate 87 days and 627 miles of Harold's journey.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Random House, $25, Hardcover, 978081299395, 336 pp
Publication Date: July 24, 2012