Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Harold Fry is a just-retired, very unhappy man, in a dead marriage, when he receives a letter from the other end of the country. A former colleague is in a hospice and she writes, just to touch hands, to tell him she is terminally ill. Harold writes a short reply, puts on his jacket and sets off for the post box - and finds he can't let go of the envelope. So he walks to the next post box, and the next, and suddenly, he has made up his mind that he will walk from South Devon to Berwick on Tweed, to say goodbye to Queenie, in the clothes he stands up in, a pair of boat shoes, and no mobile phone. Harold and his wife have been estranged for 20 or more years. During this long walk to Berwick she thinks again about their life together, and Harold thinks about his entire life, and what made him who he is.

I couldn't find a flaw in this novel. Harold is a man who you sympathise with, he is drawn so beautifully. Maureen, the wife left behind is cold, calculating, sharp-tongued, but also deeply hurt. During the walk you will find out why Harold is walking, why Maureen is so bitter, and you will find that you are cheering him on, not only for the walking, but for the fact that he does not want to let go of his marriage either. The characters met along the journey are also beautifully drawn and its not hard to conjure up the picture of each of them in your head. The chapters are not long, in fact sometimes just two pages, and each of the major characters is coaxed out of the first impressions so skillfully you just need to keep turning the pages. I will always keep with me the thought of one of the characters that "life a slippery bugger...." It is, but Rachel Joyce has grasped Harold's life and in doing so has given us an astounding first novel.

(copy of my Amazon Vine review)