The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Bond Street Books, 2012
Have you ever ventured out to the corner store to buy milk and wondered what would happen if you just kept on going? What adventures would you have if you went straight instead of turning back? What kind of people would you meet along the way, and how would they change your life? And what about the people left behind? What would their stories be?
After receiving a letter from a dying friend, Harold Fry wrote her a note of reply and then headed off to the nearest post box to mail it. And then, wearing ordinary clothes and yachting shoes, and without so much as a cell phone, he kept going straight instead of turning back. On his unintentional pilgrimage across Great Britain, Harold Fry encountered an adventure or two and learned a lot about himself along the way.
Rachel Joyce weaves Harold’s story in with those of his son, his wife, the neighbour who supports her, and the dying friend. Using different points of view, Joyce takes the reader on a pilgrimage to understand one family’s story as perceived in different ways. We get the full picture of the characters and their life experiences by balancing what they have to say about themselves with what others say about them.
Joyce puts on full display the mental games we play with ourselves to get through the day. The inability to accurately perceive self and others is a theme of the book. Joyce’s characters’ perceptions of self are blurred by anger or self-doubt. They also hold skewed perceptions of others because of lack of communication or misunderstanding. The media outlets in the book make a mess of telling an accurate story— it’s human nature to gossip and to make the gossip the best possible story. And other people outright lie.
Harold’s pilgrimage is one of body and soul. It walks him through faith and doubt, joy and sorrow, and physical development and deterioration. He learns to keep putting one foot in front of another all the same. He learns the basic goodness of humanity. He learns that when someone is healed, it doesn’t mean they’re cured. And he learns that you can’t save everyone.
When you finish this book, you will think it was a simple story. Then you’ll think about it some more. The more you think about it, the more profound it will become.
It’s a potent story, simply told.
Posted on January 16, 2013, in Book reviews, Books I bought, Books to read again and again, Fiction and tagged Bond Street Books, Great Britain, Harold Fry, literature, pilgrimages, Rachel Joyce. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.