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Book Pick: 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' by Rachel Joyce

Queenie Hennessy is dying, and Harold Fry is determined to see her … by walking the 600 miles from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Harold has faith that for as long as he walks, she will live.

Queenie Hennessy is dying, and Harold Fry is determined to see her … by walking the 600 miles from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Harold has faith that for as long as he walks, she will live.

Harold Fry is a retired brewery worker who lives with his wife Maureen.  They sleep in separate bedrooms and eat their meals in virtual silence.  In fact, Maureen seems to barely tolerate him.  Their son David doesn’t live there anymore but Maureen keeps his bedroom intact in case he returns.

When Harold hears of Queenie’s illness, he writes a letter of sorrow for his former coworker, intending to drop it off in the postbox down the road.  But he’s overwhelmed by the need to deliver the note in person, and so he embarks on the long journey from southern England to the Scottish coast without a cell phone or even a change of clothes. 

But this book is more than just one man’s journey to see a dying friend; it’s a introspective tale of redemption.  This pilgrimage allows Harold to reflect on his life, his actions and his choices.  The author also weaves an exceptional character study of the people Harold meets – there’s the nameless “girl in the garage” whose story of the faith that cured her aunt’s cancer inspires Harold to keep going, Martina, the eastern European trained doctor who keeps her long gone boyfriend’s new boots ready for his return, and the group of other “pilgrims” who join Harold on the last leg of his trip.

Though the characters are many and his encounters are often brief, in their own unique way they help Harold through his flaws and regrets.  There may even be a second chance with Maureen, who begins to miss him though he calls her throughout.

Although The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry reads quickly, it is by no means a minor narrative; you’ll be drawn in immediately and feel both joy and heartbreak at the book’s end.  Similar books include Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson.

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