The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
Why does such an unlikely story work so well? I found myself asking this question over and over again as I accompanied Harold on his strange pilgrimage.
What is the book about? In short, a middle aged man sets off to post a letter and ends up walking without money, proper shoes, map, or food, for nearly 90 days, towards a destination over 600 miles away whose exact location he doesn’t even know. His mission: to save a life.
After several of the early pages wondering where on earth this story was going, I found myself drawn towards Harold, his wife, and the terminally ill woman he has decided to visit. Curiosity got the better of me and before long I was turning pages avidly, needing to know the outcome. Would he make it in time? What damage had he done to his marriage? What was the mystery surrounding his estranged son?
And gradually it dawned on me that this story is about living an extraordinary life, about having the courage to live in the unknown, to commit, and to take action, no matter how ‘dull and ordinary’ one’s circumstances are.
Harold is joined and subsequently deserted by a motley crew of well-wishers and fame seekers. Even Dog, who had, as Harold said, ‘chosen to walk with Harold for a while, and then it had chosen to stop, and walk instead with the young girl. Life was like that.’
To quote Alfred Hickling in The Guardian, Rachel Joyce successfully conveys ‘profound emotions in simple, unaffected language’.
And for me, therein lies both its charm and its success.