The storyline seems disarmingly simple… But given that The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, we must also expect something of some level of depth, able to speak to readers on a more profound level.
Here is the premise: Harold Fry is a retiree. Life is pretty mundane from the sound of the initial chapters. One day he receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, a friend he has not seen for 20 years – she is dying. Harold barely knows how to answer a letter like this, so scribbles a few lines and marches straight to the post box to post it – and keeps on marching. Feeling that he really must do something for her, Harold promises to walk the 500 or more miles to Berwick-Upon-Tweed to see her. And so begins an amazing journey…
It’s the human interest story of the year, as Harold becomes a beloved folk hero, and joined by other wannabe ‘pilgrims’, who eventually leave him behind. As to that, he could not have been more delighted. The solitude gives him time to sort through his complex emotions about the past, carefully and masterfully unwound by Rachel Joyce – his issues with his son, his estrangement from his wife, and his betrayal of Queenie so long ago.
Long-winded at times, and a bit repetitive as Harold moves through a complex wheel of emotions, the prose is also magnificent in places. The complexity of Harold’s story is only fully revealed right towards the end, making Harold’s achievements all the more remarkable. Overall this is a very satisfying read.