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.This book was the first book I read after being in the hospital for 6 weeks. I started it during the Thankfully Reading Weekend over the Thanksgiving holiday.
In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of the book Major Pettigrew's Last Stand as they both have an elderly gentleman as the main character. But it is not just the age of the character, but the sense that the character breaks out of his shell and tries to change his life. The concept of a modern day pilgrimage is one that we don't hear of very often and yet we all can relate to the determination and longing that Harold Fry demonstrated that one morning.
It is hard to read about a long standing marriage that has turned into a convenience without looking for similar marriages in our own lives. I appreciate the sensitivity the Joyce provides around Maureen realizing that Harold is her one true love and how she encouraged him to keep going even at her own heartbreak and longing for him to be back at home.
Harold's stubbornness is endearing as he tries to stay true to his original mission even when others capitalize on his failure. His desire to live just on what he is offered along the pilgrimage takes his quest to a new level.
Joyce delivers a touching and poignant story that will stay with the reader even after they finish the book.