Originally published January 2013 at ChicagoNow …
Another “debut” novel that is the shit.
Rachel Joyce is the author of a number of BBC Radio plays and an actress, too—one of those people who actually could go for the almighty EGOT (tm Tracy Jordan) if she set her mind to it. This, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is her first novel and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Overachiever.
Such is the story of Harold Fry—very much the normal man, who in an instant decides to do something extraordinary. Recently retired and living a lonely life with his wife Maureen, Harold receives word from a long-forgotten co-worker. She’s dying from cancer. And this is goodbye. It’s that note in the mail that sets Harold off on his journey, and over the course of the book, we discover the “why” behind Harold’s desire to see a woman he hasn’t been in contact with in decades.
It’s not my style to give too much away. To delve into the storyline too much would give away the big reveal at the end—which, I kinda sorta saw coming, but was surprised at how emotionally I reacted to it. Everyone is going to take something different away from the story—which for me, makes it more like last year’s nonfiction hit, “Wild.” It’s almost a fictionalized guy’s “Wild”—a man taking a long walk to find himself. For some, it’s going to be about the physical aspects of the journey. For others, Harold’s trip to reconciliation with his wife. Or his son. Or Queenie, who fell on the sword for him so many years ago.
What did I get out of it? It was an eye-opening reminder that loving someone is demonstrated in many, many different ways. Relationships are messy, and there’s no getting around that—especially if the relationship is worth it. In words best spoken by Harold’s wife, Maureen, “You got up, and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don’t even know you can get there isn’t a small miracle, then I don’t know what is.”
I would ask the reader to give the book about 100 pages if you are struggling to find its rhythm. It took a while for me to get beyond what seemed like a very simple tale to discover it really is more than just a book about a walk.