The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

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Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER ? LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE ? NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl ...

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Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.
 
Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.
 
Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.
 
And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.
 
A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.

Advance praise for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
 
“When it seems almost too late, Harold Fry opens his battered heart and lets the world rush in. This funny, poignant story about an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey moved and inspired me.”—Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank
 
“There’s tremendous heart in this debut novel by Rachel Joyce, as she probes questions that are as simple as they are profound: Can we begin to live again, and live truly, as ourselves, even in middle age, when all seems ruined? Can we believe in hope when hope seems to have abandoned us? I found myself laughing through tears, rooting for Harold at every step of his journey. I’m still rooting for him.”—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
 
“Marvelous! I held my breath at his every blister and cramp, and felt as if by turning the pages, I might help his impossible quest succeed.”—Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
 
“Harold’s journey is ordinary and extraordinary; it is a journey through the self, through modern society, through time and landscape. It is a funny book, a wise book, a charming book—but never cloying. It’s a book with a  savage twist—and yet never seems manipulative. Perhaps because Harold himself is just wonderful. . . . I’m telling you now: I love this book.”—Erica Wagner, The Times (UK)
 
“The odyssey of a simple man . . . original, subtle and touching.”—Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life

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  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
    The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The marriage between Harold and Maureen Fry had degraded into predictable patterns of mutual discomfort. Nothing in their quiet English village lives could snap those monotonous rhythms, but a single letter from a long lost love could. The effects of that one brief note were both far-reaching and surprising. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry takes readers on trips both literal and figurative. In her debut fiction, award-winning British playwright Rachel Joyce utilizes her skills of portrayal to transform an initially unlikely scenario into a plausible story.

Publishers Weekly
When Harold Fry, a morbidly shy, retired British brewery salesman, decides on a whim to walk the distance between his home in southern England and the hospice where his long-lost friend, Queenie Hennessey, is dying of cancer, he has no idea that his act will change his life and inspire hundreds of people. The motivation behind the trek and why he is burdened by guilt and the need to atone, are gradually revealed in this initially captivating but finally pedestrian first novel by English writer Joyce. During Harold’s arduous trek, which covers 627 miles and 87 days, he uncoils the memory of his destructive rampage for which Queenie took the blame. He also acknowledges the unraveling of his marriage and his anguish about the lack of intimacy with his son. Plagued by doubt and exhaustion, he undergoes a dark night of the soul, but in the tradition of classical pilgrimages, he ultimately achieves spiritual affirmation. Joyce writes with precision about the changing landscape as Harold trudges his way across England. Early chapters of the book are beguiling, but a final revelation tests credulity, and the sentimental ending may be an overdose of what the Brits call “pudding.” Agent: Conville & Walsh Literary Agency. (July)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
 
 
“[A] gorgeously poignant novel of hope and transformation.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
 
“You have to love Harold Fry, a man who set out one morning to mail a letter and then just kept going. . . . Like Christian in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Harold becomes Everyman in the eyes of those who encounter him. . . . Harold's journey, which parallels Christian's nicely but not overly neatly, takes him to the edge of death and back again. It will stick with you, this story of faith, fidelity and redemption.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“For all of us perfectly responsible, stoop-shouldered suburbanites wearing a path in the living-room carpet, Harold’s ridiculous journey is a cause for celebration. This is Walter Mitty skydiving. This is J. Alfred Prufrock not just eating that peach, but throwing the pit out the window, rolling up his trousers and whistling to those hot mermaids. Released from the cage of his own passivity, Harold feels transformed, though he keeps his tie on. . . . In this bravely unpretentious and unsentimental tale, she’s cleared space where miracles are still possible.” —Washington Post
 
"[R]emarkable. . . . I can't think of a better recommendation for summer reading. And take your time, just as Harold does.”—USA Today, four out of four stars review

[A] story of present-day courage. . . . .  about how easily a mousy, domesticated man can get lost and how joyously he can be refound.”—Janet Maslin, New York Times

“From its charming beginning to its startling and cathartic denouement, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a comic and tragic joy.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“When it seems almost too late, Harold Fry opens his battered heart and lets the world rush in. This funny, poignant story about an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey moved and inspired me.”—Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank
 
“There’s tremendous heart in this debut novel by Rachel Joyce, as she probes questions that are as simple as they are profound: Can we begin to live again, and live truly, as ourselves, even in middle age, when all seems ruined? Can we believe in hope when hope seems to have abandoned us? I found myself laughing through tears, rooting for Harold at every step of his journey. I’m still rooting for him.”—Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife
 
Marvelous! I held my breath at his every blister and cramp, and felt as if by turning the pages, I might help his impossible quest succeed.”—Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
 
“Harold’s journey is ordinary and extraordinary; it is a journey through the self, through modern society, through time and landscape. It is a funny book, a wise book, a charming book—but never cloying. It’s a book with a  savage twist—and yet never seems manipulative. Perhaps because Harold himself is just wonderful. . . . I’m telling you now: I love this book.”—Erica Wagner, The Times (UK)
 
“The odyssey of a simple man . . . original, subtle and touching.”—Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life
 
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry takes the most ordinary and unassuming of men and turns him into a hero for us all. To go on this journey with Harold will not only break your heart, it might just also heal it.”—Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

“A gentle and genteel charmer, brimming with British quirkiness yet quietly haunting in its poignant and wise examination of love and devotion. Sure to become a book-club favorite.”— Booklist

Library Journal
Soon after his retirement from a brewery in a quiet English village, Harold Fry receives a surprising letter. It's from beloved friend and colleague Queenie Hennessy, whom he hasn't heard from in 20 years, writing from a distant terminal cancer ward to say good-bye. This letter returns Harold to a horrifically painful part of his past, threatens his already troubled marriage, and ultimately leads to a crisis that casts into doubt everything he thinks he knows about himself. He decides to embark on a 600-mile walk to say goodbye to Queenie in person. Joyce, a former actress and acclaimed BBC scriptwriter here publishing her first novel, depicts Harold's personal crisis and the extraordinary pilgrimage it generates in masterly fashion, exploring psychological complexities with compassion and insight. The result is a novel of deep beauty and wisdom about the human condition; Harold, a deeply sympathetic protagonist, has much to teach us. VERDICT A great novel; essential reading for fans of literary fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 2/27/12.]—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT
Kirkus Reviews
Those with the patience to accompany the protagonist on this meandering journey will receive an emotional payoff at the end. The debut novel by an award-winning British radio playwright (and actor) offers an allegory that requires many leaps of faith, while straddling the line between the charming and cloying (as well as the comic and melodramatic). The title character has recently retired from his office job at a brewery, lives with a wife who hasn't loved him for decades--since their intelligent, perhaps disturbed son sparked her estrangement from her husband--and appears destined to live his life in everyday limbo until the grave. Then, one day, he receives a letter from a female co-worker with whom he had once been close but hasn't been in contact for 20 years. She is dying from cancer and has written to let him know, to say goodbye. Without planning or preparation, he embarks on the title's "unlikely pilgrimage," somehow believing that if he can walk the hundreds of miles over the many months it will take him, she will remain alive to welcome him. On his journey, he meets a bunch of characters, becomes something of a celebrity and learns a little bit more about the meaning of life. These lessons are articulated in homilies such as "you could be ordinary and attempt something extraordinary," and "Maybe it's what the world needs. A little less sense, and a little more faith." Maybe, but if such sentiments seem akin to those from one of Mitch Albom's bestselling parables, the novel's evocation of everyday British reticence, heartbreak and wonder occasionally suggest the depths of the great Graham Swift. The final chapters of the novel resolve the mysteries that have been underlying the rest--how the son divided his parents, why the co-worker had disappeared from Harold's life--and there's a powerful resolution in which all's well that ends well. Manipulative but moving, for readers who don't mind having their strings pulled.
The Washington Post
Rachel Joyce's first novel…sounds twee, but it's surprisingly steely, even inspiring, the kind of quirky book you want to shepherd into just the right hands. If your friends don't like it, you may have to stop returning their calls for a little while until you can bring yourself to forgive them…[Joyce] has a lovely sense of the possibilities of redemption. In this bravely unpretentious and unsentimental tale, she's cleared space where miracles are still possible.
—Ron Charles
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812993295
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/24/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 158,451
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Joyce is an award-winning writer of more than twenty plays for BBC Radio 4. She started writing after a twenty-year acting career, in which she performed leading roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and won multiple awards. Rachel Joyce lives in Gloucestershire on a farm with her family and is at work on her second novel.

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Read an Excerpt

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

A Novel
By Rachel Joyce

Random House

Copyright © 2012 Rachel Joyce
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780812993295

1

Harold and the Letter

The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday. It was an ordinary morning in mid-April that smelled of clean washing and grass cuttings. Harold Fry sat at the breakfast table, freshly shaved, in a clean shirt and tie, with a slice of toast that he wasn’t eating. He gazed beyond the kitchen window at the clipped lawn, which was spiked in the middle by Maureen’s telescopic washing line, and trapped on all three sides by the neighbors’ stockade fencing.

“Harold!” called Maureen above the vacuum cleaner. “Post!”

He thought he might like to go out, but the only thing to do was mow the lawn and he had done that yesterday. The vacuum tumbled into silence, and his wife appeared, looking cross, with a letter. She sat opposite Harold.

Maureen was a slight woman with a cap of silver hair and a brisk walk. When they first met, nothing had pleased him more than to make her laugh. To watch her neat frame collapse into unruly happiness. “It’s for you,” she said. He didn’t know what she meant until she slid an envelope across the table, and stopped it just short of Harold’s elbow. They both looked at the letter as if they had never seen one before. It was pink. “The postmark says Berwick-upon-Tweed.”

He didn’t know anyone in Berwick. He didn’t know many people anywhere. “Maybe it’s a mistake.”

“I think not. They don’t get something like a postmark wrong.” She took toast from the rack. She liked it cold and crisp.

Harold studied the mysterious envelope. Its pink was not the color of the bathroom suite, or the matching towels and fluffed cover for the toilet seat. That was a vivid shade that made Harold feel he shouldn’t be there. But this was delicate. A Turkish Delight pink. His name and address were scribbled in ballpoint, the clumsy letters collapsing into one another as if a child had dashed them off in a hurry: Mr. H. Fry, 13 Fossebridge Road, Kingsbridge, South Hams. He didn’t recognize the handwriting.

“Well?” said Maureen, passing a knife. He held it to the corner of the envelope, and tugged it through the fold. “Careful,” she warned.

He could feel her eyes on him as he eased out the letter, and prodded back his reading glasses. The page was typed, and addressed from a place he didn’t know: St. Bernadine’s Hospice. Dear Harold, This may come to you as some surprise. His eyes ran to the bottom of the page.

“Well?” said Maureen again.

“Good lord. It’s from Queenie Hennessy.”

Maureen speared a nugget of butter with her knife and flattened it the length of her toast. “Queenie who?”

“She worked at the brewery. Years ago. Don’t you remember?”

Maureen shrugged. “I don’t see why I should. I don’t know why I’d remember someone from years ago. Could you pass the jam?”

“She was in finances. She was very good.”

“That’s the marmalade, Harold. Jam is red. If you look at things before you pick them up, you’ll find it helps.”

Harold passed her what she needed and returned to his letter. Beautifully set out, of course; nothing like the muddled writing on the envelope. Then he smiled, remembering this was how it always was with Queenie: everything she did so precise you couldn’t fault it. “She remembers you. She sends her regards.”

Maureen’s mouth pinched into a bead. “A chap on the radio was saying the French want our bread. They can’t get it sliced in France. They come over here and they buy it all up. The chap said there might be a shortage by summer.” She paused. “Harold? Is something the matter?”

He said nothing. He drew up tall with his lips parted, his face bleached. His voice, when at last it came, was small and far away. “It’s—cancer. Queenie is writing to say goodbye.” He fumbled for more words but there weren’t any. Tugging a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, Harold blew his nose. “I um. Gosh.” Tears crammed his eyes.

Moments passed; maybe minutes. Maureen gave a swallow that smacked the silence. “I’m sorry,” she said.

He nodded. He ought to look up, but he couldn’t.

“It’s a nice morning,” she began again. “Why don’t you fetch out the patio chairs?” But he sat, not moving, not speaking, until she lifted the dirty plates. Moments later the vacuum cleaner took up from the hall.



Harold felt winded. If he moved so much as a limb, a muscle, he was afraid it would trigger an abundance of feeling he was doing his best to contain. Why had he let twenty years pass without trying to find Queenie Hennessy? A picture came of the small, dark-haired woman with whom he had worked all that time ago, and it seemed inconceivable that she was—what? Sixty? And dying of cancer in Berwick. Of all the places, he thought; he’d never traveled so far north. He glanced out at the garden and saw a ribbon of plastic caught in the laurel hedging, flapping up and down, but never pulling free. He tucked Queenie’s letter into his pocket, patted it twice for safekeeping, and rose to his feet.

Upstairs Maureen shut the door of David’s room quietly and stood a moment, breathing him in. She pulled open his blue curtains that she closed every night, and checked that there was no dust where the hem of the net drapes met the windowsill. She polished the silver frame of his Cambridge portrait, and the black-and-white baby photograph beside it. She kept the room clean because she was waiting for David to come back, and she never knew when that would be. A part of her was always waiting. Men had no idea what it was like to be a mother. The ache of loving a child, even when he had moved on. She thought of Harold downstairs, with his pink letter, and wished she could talk to their son. Maureen left the room as softly as she had entered it, and went to strip the beds.



Harold Fry took several sheets of Basildon Bond from the sideboard drawer and one of Maureen’s rollerball pens. What did you say to a dying woman with cancer? He wanted her to know how sorry he felt, but it was wrong to put In Sympathy because that was what the cards in the shops said after, as it were, the event; and anyway it sounded formal, as if he didn’t really care. He tried Dear Miss Hennessy, I sincerely hope your condition improves, but when he put down the pen to inspect his message, it seemed both stiff and unlikely. He crumpled the paper into a ball and tried again. He had never been good at expressing himself. What he felt was so big it was difficult to find the words, and even if he could, it was hardly appropriate to write them to someone he had not contacted in twenty years. Had the shoe been on the other foot, Queenie would have known what to do.

“Harold?” Maureen’s voice took him by surprise. He thought she was upstairs, polishing something, or speaking to David. She had her rubber gloves on.

“I’m writing Queenie a note.”

“A note?” She often repeated what he said.

“Yes. Would you like to sign?”

“I think not. It would hardly be appropriate to sign a note to someone I don’t know.”

It was time to stop worrying about expressing anything beautifully. He would simply have to set down the words in his head: Dear Queenie, Thank you for your letter. I am very sorry. Yours Best wishes—Harold (Fry). It was limp, but there it was. Sliding the letter into an envelope, he sealed it quickly, and copied the address of St. Bernadine’s Hospice onto the front. “I’ll nip to the postbox.”

It was past eleven o’clock. He lifted his waterproof jacket from the peg where Maureen liked him to hang it. At the door, the smell of warmth and salt air rushed at his nose, but his wife was at his side before his left foot was over the threshold.

“Will you be long?”

“I’m only going to the end of the road.”

She kept on looking up at him, with her moss-green eyes and her fragile chin, and he wished he knew what to say but he didn’t; at least not in a way that would make any difference. He longed to touch her like in the old days, to lower his head on her shoulder and rest there. “Cheerio, Maureen.” He shut the front door between them, taking care not to let it slam.

Built on a hill above Kingsbridge, the houses of Fossebridge Road enjoyed what estate agents called an elevated position, with far-reaching views over the town and countryside. Their front gardens, however, sloped at a precarious angle toward the pavement below, and plants wrapped themselves round bamboo stakes as if hanging on for dear life. Harold strode down the steep concrete path a little faster than he might have wished and noticed five new dandelions. Maybe this afternoon he would get out the Roundup. It would be something.

Spotting Harold, the next-door neighbor waved and steered his way toward the adjoining fence. Rex was a short man with tidy feet at the bottom, a small head at the top, and a very round body in the middle, causing Harold to fear sometimes that if he fell there would be no stopping him. He would roll down the hill like a barrel. Rex had been widowed six months ago, at about the time of Harold’s retirement. Since Elizabeth’s death, he liked to talk about how hard life was. He liked to talk about it at great length. “The least you can do is listen,” Maureen said, although Harold wasn’t sure if she meant “you” in the general sense or the particular.

“Off for a walk?” said Rex.

Harold attempted a jocular tone that would act, he hoped, as an intimation that now was not the time to stop. “Need anything posted, old chap?”

“Nobody writes to me. Since Elizabeth passed away, I only get circulars.”

Rex gazed into the middle distance and Harold recognized at once the direction the conversation was heading. He threw a look upward; puffs of cloud sat on a tissue-paper sky. “Jolly nice day.”

“Jolly nice,” said Rex. There was a pause and Rex poured a sigh into it. “Elizabeth liked the sun.” Another pause.

“Good day for mowing, Rex.”

“Very good, Harold. Do you compost your grass cuttings? Or do you mulch?”

“I find mulching leaves a mess that sticks to my feet. Maureen doesn’t like it when I tread things into the house.” Harold glanced at his yachting shoes and wondered why people wore them when they had no intention of sailing. “Well. Must get on. Catch the midday collection.” Wagging his envelope, Harold turned toward the pavement.

For the first time in his life, it was a disappointment to find that the postbox cropped up sooner than expected. Harold tried to cross the road to avoid it, but there it was, waiting for him on the corner of Fossebridge Road. He lifted his letter for Queenie to the slot, and stopped. He looked back at the short distance his feet had traveled.

The detached houses were stuccoed and washed in shades of yellow, salmon, and blue. Some still had their pointed fifties roofs with decorative beams in the shape of a half sun; others had slate-clad loft extensions; one had been completely rebuilt in the style of a Swiss chalet. Harold and Maureen had moved here forty-five years ago, just after they were married. It took all his savings to pay the deposit; there had been nothing left for curtains or furniture. They had kept themselves apart from others, and over time neighbors had come and gone, while only Harold and Maureen remained. There had once been vegetable beds, and an ornamental pond. She made chutneys every summer, and David kept goldfish. Behind the house there had been a potting shed that smelled of fertilizer, with high hooks for hanging tools, and coils of twine and rope. But these things too were long since gone. Even their son’s school, which had stood a stone’s throw from his bedroom window, was bulldozed now and replaced with fifty affordable homes in bright primary colors and street lighting in the style of Georgian gas lamps.

Harold thought of the words he had written to Queenie, and their inadequacy shamed him. He pictured himself returning home, and Maureen calling David, and life being exactly the same except for Queenie dying in Berwick, and he was overcome. The letter rested on the dark mouth of the postbox. He couldn’t let it go.

“After all,” he said out loud, though nobody was looking, “it’s a nice day.” He hadn’t anything else to do. He might as well walk to the next one. He turned the corner of Fossebridge Road before he could change his mind.

It was not like Harold to make a snap decision. He saw that. Since his retirement, days went by and nothing changed; only his waist thickened, and he lost more hair. He slept poorly at night, and sometimes he did not sleep at all. Yet, arriving more promptly than he anticipated at a postbox, he paused again. He had started something and he didn’t know what it was, but now that he was doing it, he wasn’t ready to finish. Beads of perspiration sprouted over his forehead; his blood throbbed with anticipation. If he took his letter to the post office on Fore Street, it would be guaranteed next day delivery.

The sun pressed warm on the back of his head and shoulders as he strolled down the avenues of new housing. Harold glanced in at people’s windows, and sometimes they were empty, and sometimes people were staring right back at him and he felt obliged to rush on. Sometimes, though, there was an object that he didn’t expect; a porcelain figure, or a vase, and even a tuba. The tender pieces of themselves that people staked as boundaries against the outside world. He tried to visualize what a passerby would learn about himself and Maureen from the windows of 13 Fossebridge Road, before he realized it would be not very much, on account of the net curtains. He headed for the quayside, with the muscles twitching in his thighs.

The tide was out and dinghies lolled in a moonscape of black mud, needing paint. Harold hobbled to an empty bench, inched Queenie’s letter from his pocket, and unfolded it.

She remembered. After all these years. And yet he had lived out his ordinary life as if what she had done meant nothing. He hadn’t tried to stop her. He hadn’t followed. He hadn’t even said goodbye. The sky and pavement blurred into one as fresh tears swelled his eyes. Then through them came the watery outline of a young mother and child. They seemed to be holding ice cream cones, and bore them like torches. She lifted the boy and set him down on the other end of the bench.

“Lovely day,” said Harold, not wanting to sound like an old man who was crying. She didn’t look up, or agree. Bending over her child’s fist, she licked a smooth path to stop the ice cream from running. The boy watched his mother, so still and close it was as if his face was part of hers.

Harold wondered if he had ever sat by the quay eating ice cream with David. He was sure he must have done, although searching in his mind for the memory, he found it wasn’t readily available. He must get on. He must post his letter.

Office workers were laughing with lunchtime pints outside the Old Creek Inn, but Harold barely noticed. As he began the steep climb up Fore Street, he thought about the mother who was so absorbed in her son she saw no one else. It occurred to him it was Maureen who spoke to David and told him their news. It was Maureen who had always written Harold’s name (“Dad”) in the letters and cards. It was even Maureen who had found the nursing home for his father. And it raised the question—as he pushed the button at the pelican crossing—that if she was, in effect, Harold, “then who am I?”

He strode past the post office without even stopping.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce Copyright © 2012 by Rachel Joyce. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Rachel Joyce, Author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
What inspired you to write The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry?
This story began as a radio play that I wrote (in secret) for my father when I knew he was dying of cancer. I never told my dad I was doing this for him - and I think I knew he would never find out. But I suppose I wanted to write about a man keeping alive a person he cared for, at the point that I was losing someone I very much wanted to keep. I loved making my dad laugh too. He was an extremely witty man. I also wanted to write a story about the things I believe in - about the very simple and complicated business of being human, I suppose.
Some of the locations Harold passes through are based on your own favorite places. What are two of those places?
The barn where Harold first sleeps out is very near our house, which is on the edge of a valley near Stroud. I pass this barn every day and it is a very average old thing - corrugated iron, tarpaulin, bricks. But I love it because it is what it is. It hasn't been converted to a house with wide -reaching views. It smells of diesel and hay and if you peep through the bars you can see right across the valley. I also have a special affinity with Kingsbridge, in South Devon, where Harold begins his walk - and Maureen waits for him - because my husband was brought up there. Whenever we visit we have crab sandwiches by the sea.
What was the hardest part of writing this story?
The hardest part was going back to it every day and writing; to keep believing in a story only you know and to give all that time, all that thought, all that spirit to it, when you don't even know anyone will pick it up and read it. In that way, Harold's journey and mine are very similar. They were both about putting your faith in something unlikely.
You say you want readers to think of Harold as an "every man." In what way can his journey relate to every person?
I think there is a part in all of us that is looking for something bigger - maybe it is the nature of being human that we seek to make sense of things that don't make sense at all. I also think that we all know what it means to lose people and things you want to keep. We know what remorse is and we also know how good it feels to connect. Essentially Harold sees himself as ordinary. I think that is true for most of us.
Who have you discovered lately?
Elizabeth Stroutt is just about my favourite discovery recently. This year I have also discovered several books by favourite authors of mine - including Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. My husband is reading James Hillman and can't resist quoting me excerpts when I am trying to concentrate on reading of my own. I find Hillman's ideas fill my head to bursting.

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Reading Group Guide

QUESTIONS FOR READERS

1. Harold’s journey is both physical and metaphorical. He is not the only character in the novel to go on a journey and Rachel Joyce has said that writing the book was in itself a journey. What other literary journeys does this novel call to mind?

2. Harold says he is not a religious man but his journey is called a pilgrimage and it is undoubtedly a leap of faith. How much and how consciously do you feel RJ draws on Christian tenets and/ or other belief systems in the novel.

3. Harold is a man with many flaws. Despite, or perhaps because of this, do you see him as an archetypal Englishman? Or is he an Everyman?

4. When we first meet Harold and Maureen, while they share breakfast they seem in different worlds. To what extent did you see Maureen as the cause of Harold’s departure?

5. The mental health of several characters is called into question in the novel. Depression, Alzheimers, addiction are all diseases that touch many of us and yet mental illness remains to a great extent taboo in our society. How is RJ using this? Do you find it effective?
Harold and Maureen are married but both are lonely. The couple Harold meets at Buckfast Abbey travel together but have also lost sight of what holds them together. What makes a marriage happy? How much is romantic happiness about being a pair and how much about other people and interests?

6. At the start of the book both Harold and Maureen have allowed friends to fall by the wayside. This story is all about how we all connect with one another. What makes someone a true friend and how does RJ represent friendship?

7. Regret is an emotion that plays a key part in the novel. Do you think RJ sees it as a positive or negative force?

8. Is Harold’s relationship with David the inevitable result of Harold’s own upbringing?

9. Rachel Joyce writes beautifully about the English countryside – but how crucial to the telling of her story is the actual landscape she describes? How would it change the novel if it was set in Scotland, perhaps, or France, or..?

10. The sea provides bookends for the novel and plays a vivid part in Harold’s memories. Is this significant?

11. How does RJ use food, and the sharing of food in the novel?

12. How much are Harold’s responses to his fellow pilgrims dic- tated by his past?

13. Was the ending of the novel a shock or the inevitable conclusion?

14. Who saves who in this novel?

15. Has The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry inspired you to do something out of the ordinary – take a journey? Renew contact with someone? Look at strangers with a new perspective? Do share your response with us at www.facebook.com/unlikelypilgrimageofharoldfry

RACHEL JOYCE ON WRITING THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY

“Six years ago ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ began as a play for BBC Radio 4 that I wrote for my dad as he died of adenoid cystic cancer of the head and neck. I knew he would never hear it – and he didn’t. The last play of mine that he heard, he came to me afterwards and said, “You’ve done it again. You’ve made me cry.”

I was never sure if he was happy or sad about that.
The play won an award for best radio play. He didn’t know that either.

I had wanted for many years to write a book, but never had the courage it would work. I tried several times, and they came to nothing. (For a start, I didn’t show them to anyone.) So I enrolled on a novel writing course as a way of gaining confidence and also making a commitment.

I started writing through the night when my family were asleep. Or I’d have to stop the car on the way to school and jot something down on a bit of paper or the back of a receipt. My children got very good at taking notes as I dictated them. The other day I found one in my bag jotted down by my youngest daughter. It says: ‘what is Harold’s atitud to alcool?’

In writing the book, I listened a lot to other people. I wove a lot in of what I saw as I passed. People move me very much. Sometimes I think I feel more for them than I can say; it goes into what I write. It was the same when I used to work as an actress. I felt able to express the things inside me that didn’t have a place anywhere else.

The book isn’t about my dad. But it maybe (somehow) is about me wanting him not to die. He was a very fit and sharp man. His battle against cancer took four years and was very distressing to witness. He was reduced and reduced and reduced. We didn’t talk about it because he didn’t want us to. He insisted on doing the London – Brighton cycle race shortly after one operation. After another, I’d go to visit him in hospital and he was in an awful way, but still wearing a shirt and tie. Just like Harold.

This book has my heart in it. I tried to write a story that wouldn’t quite fit the rules. So that the reader might think they knew where they were, and then discover they weren’t there after all. I wanted to make the implausible, plausible after all.”

ABOUT RACHEL JOYCE

The author, Rachel Joyce, has written    over    twenty    original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4, and has created major adaptations for the Classic series and Woman’s Hour, as well as a TV drama adaptation for BBC2. In 2007 she won the Tinniswood Award for Best Radio Play. Joyce moved to writing after a twenty-year career in theatre and television, performing leading roles for the RSC, the Royal National Theatre, The Royal Court and Cheek by Jowl; and winning a Time Out Best Actress Award and the Sony Silver. She currently lives in Gloucestershire with her family and is at work on her second novel.

PRODUCED BY TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS FOR READING GROUPS 2012

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 188 )
Rating Distribution

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(102)

4 Star

(55)

3 Star

(21)

2 Star

(3)

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(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 188 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 24, 2012

    Love, Loss, Triumph

    I absolutely loved this novel - it is so emotional, poignant and deeply touching. Harold Fry is truly a lovable character that you continue to learn more about and become closer to as the story unfolds. The beautiful language used by the author is so easy to read and I found myself going back and re-reading passages that I had to let sink in again. Joyce is truly profound in so much of this book.

    I cannot recommend this novel enough - it is a story of love, loss, triumph, perseverance and so much more. It is hard for me to believe that this is a debut novel and I wish Rachel Joyce much success and hope that many readers have the privilege of enjoying this novel as much as I did.

    46 out of 47 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2012

    The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

    The best book I've read in a long time. I hoped I knew what
    the ending would be, but I was still surprised and in tears.

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2012

    While the story was interesting, there are sections with much pr

    While the story was interesting, there are sections with much profanity.
    Please be aware of this before you buy as BN will not refund nook books.

    9 out of 35 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2012

    Excellent!

    I could not put it down and the ending had me moved to tears.

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Who would think that taking a 500-mile walk would bring all one'

    Who would think that taking a 500-mile walk would bring all one's emotions to a head and invite self-reflection as well as regret?

    Harold Fry never knew that a letter from an old friend would elicit so many emotions, and he never would have thought he would do what he was doing or how he was doing the 500-mile walk to his friend Queenie who was dying of cancer.

    As you are reading about Harold's walking and his promise, you are probably asking yourself this question as I did: Why in the world is he continuing on this journey when it is becoming impossible to walk and to fulfill his promise. I would have accepted any ride that was offered. :) Harold did meet a number of interesting people, though, and his wife who was left at home was making friendships and regretting that she and Harold had never had a deep relationship.

    The adjective, MARVELOUS, on the ARC's book cover undeniably describes this book. Additional adjectives such as SPECTACULAR and SPLENDID would also be revealing terms. The author made this mundane topic of a 500-mile walk to see a friend not mundane at all. Ms. Joyce had beautiful descriptions of landscapes, feelings, conversations, and thoughts about friendship and family. She drew you right into the book from page one.

    You will find that this read is very profound and thought-provoking. Nothing but praise for this remarkable book....the characters and the storyline are exceptional.

    The book is also a tribute to the decency of the human race for their concern and their support of a cause a fellow human being believed in. This book is also an inspiring emotional ride...have tissues handy and be prepared to be thinking about your own life....the regrets as well as the pleasures. 5/5

    I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2012

    Thoroughly enjoyable!

    Don't miss this book...it is a treasure. Quirky and heartfelt. I only wish it wasn't her debut as I am ready for more.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The simplest thing I can say about this book is that it is outst

    The simplest thing I can say about this book is that it is outstanding. I could tell you about how heartbreaking and adorable Harold is. I could go on about the sad state of his marriage to his wife Maureen. Then I could babble about how the character development is sublime and natural. I could tell you about the times that I couldn't stop the tears from falling as I read beautiful passages, about how at times I would suck in my breath at the loveliness of some of the quotes. Perhaps I should tell you that you'll know nothing at the beginning but by the end will feel that you know everything worth knowing?

    What I will say is this: This novel is a must read.

    Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2012

    This was the best read of the summer for me. I actually started

    This was the best read of the summer for me. I actually started
    re-reading it right after I finished it. The second time around is even
    better. There are many lessons wrapped up in this book. Perhaps my
    favorite is that if you take the time to slow down and look and listen
    you will understand and appreciate your world and the people that are in
    it. Rachel Joyce is an outstanding writer. I can't wait for her next
    novel.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2012

    Without revealing some of the best twists and turns of a fiction

    Without revealing some of the best twists and turns of a fictional character, this is a life lesson given without judgment, without preaching and with quiet dignity. Four of my favorite characters ever reside within the pages of this book. Most of us have regrets; beautifully crafted and integrated long arcs which would make a fabulous movie. One can only hope!

    This will be a gift to many... there is something here for everyone.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2013

    Touching,Wonderful story

    I just finished reading this book and loved it so much, I almost want to immeditaly re read it. The last pages were read thru tears that ended with laughter and smiles. I couldn't put this book down.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2012

    This is truly an incredible book. I don't usually have time to r

    This is truly an incredible book. I don't usually have time to reread books( just too many great books to read) but this is one that I will definitely read again. Harold Fry is one of the most endearing characters I've ever encountered.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 20, 2013

    Very good read.

    Using simple language, the book still had me stop often to ponder the various elements of the pilgrimage. A loving portrayal of mostly English countryside provides the foundation for Harold's extraordinary walk, transforming him and his wife, and illuminating the reader in the process.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2013

    I truly enjoyed each moment of this book, but especially the sta

    I truly enjoyed each moment of this book, but especially the start. It all begins when Harold Fry learns that a former co-worker is dying in a town far to the north of him in England. He sets out to post a letter to her-- and what happens instead id an unlikely pilgrimage indeed. Each time I feared that Rachel Joyce would make a wrong turn as author, she steered the boat back around and kept it going in newly beautiful and unexpected directions. 

    I have seldom read more beautiful descriptions of the English countryside. The book is almost worth reading for these passages alone, but in truth each character becomes deeper and more complicated as the book goes on. His unlikable tight-lipped wife for example became in the end my favorite character. A neighbor who seems merely a side-bar takes on a central role. This is the kind of novel I love best, with its mixing of wisdom, humor, sadness, surprises and beautiful prose. I am quite surprised it did not win more prizes when it first appeared, but maybe it's just too darn accessible for the people who give out literary awards. No matter, I have a feeling Harold is doing just fine on his own. 

    Hope this review is helpful. 

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2012

    Beautifully written despite a slow start

    Beautifully written despite a slow start with an 'unlikely' and silly metaphoric quest. The characters, particularly the son's life and family shattered by pertinacious unemployment, elicit retrospection, introspection, and human reconnection. A good read for baby boomers, empty-nesters, and any one interested in lifelong growth.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 16, 2012

    It Makes One Think of Walking in a Whole New Light!

    Harold Fry sets out to save his friend, Queenie, but ends up saving himself and his marriage. His odyssey teaches him to accept the strangeness of others and, in so doing, he learns to accept and forgive himself.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 22, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Strange, but lovely. Sad, but uplifting. This is a book I will r

    Strange, but lovely. Sad, but uplifting. This is a book I will read
    again to sop up any lovely bits that I may have missed the first time
    around.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 19, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This was an outstanding read. It is the story of marriage, paren

    This was an outstanding read. It is the story of marriage, parenthood,
    friendship, love, loss, sacrifice, redemtion AND an unlikely pilgrimage.
    Harold is a noble man. I recently read Cheryl Strayed's non-fiction
    book "Wild" about a walk. Both books had similar themes with
    so much of the journey an internal one. Her book is on the non-fiction
    best seller list and I hope this book will be on the fiction best seller.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I absolutely love this book. It was so deep. Harold was someone

    I absolutely love this book. It was so deep. Harold was someone I would have loved to know. It also shows what a three ring circus things become once something becomes public and how many people love to take the spotlight away from who deserves it. How many people are like the Fry's, stuffing things. It applies in real life that if you slow down and learn to think without distractions you get to know who you are and where you have been.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 15, 2012

    Poignant and Hopeful

    The tone of this book is very melancholic, but the imagery and language is so poetic and personal that I couldn't stop reading! The story draws you in, even though it seems to be premised on something sad. I found the ending somewhat unexpected and remarkably hopeful. The language is easy but poetic - definitely one of my favorites in a long time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 7, 2012

    Really good book.

    Really good book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 188 Customer Reviews

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