Harold Fry and his wife Maureen live in a quaint English village. Harold is recently retired and not quite sure what to do with himself, but appears to be somewhat content with his life. Maureen, on the other hand, is a cold woman, easily irritated with her husband and quite obsessed with cleaning the house. You can instantly tell they do not have a typical marriage (and the house cleaning is a bit comical, tinged with a more than a bit of sadness).
When the mail arrives one afternoon, Harold receives a letter from his former coworker, Queenie, stating that she is dying of cancer. Not quite sure what to say to Queenie, a woman he hasn’t heard from in years, he manages to write out a quick note and plans to walk down to the post office box and deliver it. Instead, Harold keeps walking. He decides to walk all the way to her hospice facility, hundreds of miles away, in a pair of boating shoes, and without any supplies. This is the story of Harold’s walk to Queenie.
I loved the entire idea of the novel and the description reminded me a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, a book several of us here at the store were totally charmed by last year. Harold is an incredibly likeable character and you want him to make it to Queenie, so badly, even though you aren’t quite sure why. You only slowly learn Queenie’s part of the story as Harold walks.
Harold becomes a media sensation — walking across the English countryside as he is — never knowing if Queenie is still waiting for him to arrive or if she has passed away. He meets incredible characters along the way, each interesting and inspiring in their own way. Every time it seems like he should just give up, the right person comes along to convince him otherwise.
Maureen was the most complex of the characters and I found her journey my favorite part of the book. Her husband just walks out of the house one day and decides to walk to another woman, making Maureen’s life instantly more complicated, as well. She is a hard woman, but you can slowly see her interior emotions breaking through as the story progresses, and it’s her breakthroughs that I kept looking forward to the most.
This was an utterly charming story and perfect to gift to those hard-to-buy-for friends and family. There is so much to like about Harold’s story that everyone could learn a thing or two from him. It’s quirky, inspirational, and a wonderful read.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce; $25.00; Random House.