Title : The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Author : Rachel Joyce
Narrators : Jim Broadbent
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Random House Audio
Listening Length : 9 hours 57 minutes
Rating : 3.5/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5
Harold Fry is an ordinary man living out his retirement in Knightsbridge. One day he receives a letter from ex-colleague Queenie Hennessey bidding goodbye; she has cancer and does not expect to live much longer. On an impulse, and a gut feeling that Queenie will survive if he walks to her hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Harold, quite unprepared for such a task, begins walking the 500 odd miles. This book is about this modern day pilgrimage, the people he meets on it and how his life changes because of it.
I’ve had this book on my to-listen list for quite a while, but have always shied away from it because I thought it’d be too predictable/preachy. I finally decided to give it a listen when I heard it compared favorably to one of favorite books, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand”. Well, it is predictable. But, it isn’t preachy. I’d describe it as the book of a thousand little heartbreaks, heartbreaks so little they only make a tiny dent when they occur, but collectively and accumulatively amount to a lifetime of corroding grief.
At the beginning of the book, we know very little about Harold. He’s 65, retired and lives a low-key life with his wife of 47 years, Maureen. Harold and Maureen’s marriage is held together with threadbare ties. Disagreements and disappointments have crept in. When Harold suddenly leaves to go to Queenie, Maureen isn’t sure whether he is coming back.
As the novel progresses we realize that Harold is the self-deprecating kind of person who is afraid of impinging on the world, of taking too much space, of causing pain or conflict. As he walks he remembers old, painful memories. It is a rare book that describes anguish movingly. This one does; I was at times moved to tears, listening to Harold recount his trying times. Joyce has the gift of description, description which is simple, but in such minute detail that you know exactly what the protagonist feels. Jim Broadbent’s voice adds to this because he portrays Harold so well. He brings through Harold with all his innate insecurities, diffidence, hesitancy.
This is a good book. I will say that I listened to it in spurts over the course of a month, with long pauses because I wasn’t compelled to come back to it after stopping for a while. It is kinda predictable and it is kinda sad. Still, a decent listen.