The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce (2012)

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Interest Level: Adult (middle-aged and up!)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryHarold Fry is 65 years old. He’s been retired for six months, and he really has nothing to do. He could mow the lawn, but he did that yesterday. A letter arrives from a woman he’d worked with more than 20 years before, Queenie Hennessy, informing him she is dying of cancer. She just wanted to say goodbye. Harold is shocked, and writes a very short note in reply. He pops it in an envelope, and tells his wife he is going to post the letter, taking his jacket as he heads out. At the post box, he decides to keep going to the post office, so the letter will arrive more quickly. At the post office, he hesitates, and decides to walk to the next town to mail the letter, and then just keeps on walking. It’s more than 500 miles, and he has no walking boots, no backpack, no map, not even his mobile phone. When he calls his wife, she is stunned, essentially informing him he’s lost his mind. This spectacular first novel is the story of his trek, with all his blisters and missed turns. Harold meets many kind people, and a few lost souls. He finds himself reminiscing along the way, even as he notices for perhaps the first time the world around him, learning about the flora and fauna of England as he marches north, from the south coast of Cornwall practically to Scotland. It’s a truly delightful story, funny, tragic at times, always touching but not too sweet. Joyce’s descriptions of the landscape as Harold walked are vivid, and she finds the perfect balance between Harold’s thoughts and musings, and his interactions with the people and places around him. This is a real charmer, and I expect it will win some awards this year.
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