*Starred Review* Spontaneity has never been Harold Fry's strong suit, especially once he retired. Just ask his long-suffering wife, Maureen. So imagine her surprise when Harold abruptly decides to walk 500 miles to the north of England in a naive attempt to save a dying woman, a colleague he once knew briefly but to whom he hadn't spoken in 20 years. It's the proverbial case of a man going out to mail a letter and never coming home. Clad only in his everyday garb, lacking a cell phone, backpack, or reliable sense of direction, Fry puts one poorly shod foot in front of the other and trudges through villages and hamlets, often relying on the kindness of strangers to keep his momentum going. To the object of his inspiration, the fading Queenie Hennessy, he writes pithy postcards, bravely exhorting her not to die. Solitary walks are perfect for imagining how one might set the world to rights, and Harold does just that, although not always with uplifting results, as he ruminates on missed opportunities and failed relationships. Accomplished BBC playwright Joyce's debut novel is a gentle and genteel charmer, brimming with British quirkiness yet quietly haunting in its poignant and wise examination of love and devotion. Sure to become a book-club favorite. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
Library Journal Reviews
Soon after his retirement from a brewery in a quiet English village, Harold Fry receives a surprising letter. It's from beloved friend and colleague Queenie Hennessy, whom he hasn't heard from in 20 years, writing from a distant terminal cancer ward to say good-bye. This letter returns Harold to a horrifically painful part of his past, threatens his already troubled marriage, and ultimately leads to a crisis that casts into doubt everything he thinks he knows about himself. He decides to embark on a 600-mile walk to say goodbye to Queenie in person. Joyce, a former actress and acclaimed BBC scriptwriter here publishing her first novel, depicts Harold's personal crisis and the extraordinary pilgrimage it generates in masterly fashion, exploring psychological complexities with compassion and insight. The result is a novel of deep beauty and wisdom about the human condition; Harold, a deeply sympathetic protagonist, has much to teach us. VERDICT A great novel; essential reading for fans of literary fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 2/27/12.]—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT
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Library Journal Reviews
A leading actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company, then an award-winning author of plays for the BBC, Joyce is taking on another role: novelist. And a successful one at that, it seems, with rights for this debut sold to more than 25 countries. When cranky retiree Harold Fry gets a letter from an old friend he's not seen in two decades, revealing that she's in hospice, he decides to visit her. And he decides that to do so he'll walk the 600 miles from Kingsbridge to Berwick upon Tweed. Refreshing premise; let's all watch. - "Mantel to Zafón " LJ Reviews 3/1/2012 (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
When Harold Fry, a morbidly shy, retired British brewery salesman, decides on a whim to walk the distance between his home in southern England and the hospice where his long-lost friend, Queenie Hennessey, is dying of cancer, he has no idea that his act will change his life and inspire hundreds of people. The motivation behind the trek and why he is burdened by guilt and the need to atone, are gradually revealed in this initially captivating but finally pedestrian first novel by English writer Joyce. During Harold's arduous trek, which covers 627 miles and 87 days, he uncoils the memory of his destructive rampage for which Queenie took the blame. He also acknowledges the unraveling of his marriage and his anguish about the lack of intimacy with his son. Plagued by doubt and exhaustion, he undergoes a dark night of the soul, but in the tradition of classical pilgrimages, he ultimately achieves spiritual affirmation. Joyce writes with precision about the changing landscape as Harold trudges his way across England. Early chapters of the book are beguiling, but a final revelation tests credulity, and the sentimental ending may be an overdose of what the Brits call "pudding." Agent: Conville & Walsh Literary Agency. (July)
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Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance. - (Baker & Taylor)
Jolted out of emotional numbness by a letter from an old friend who wants to say goodbye before she dies, Harold Fry embarks on a 600-mile hiking journey to his friend's side without supplies, an endeavor that stirs up memories of his unhappy marital and parenting experiences. 40,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BYTHE WASHINGTON POST
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.
A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts,The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.
Advance praise for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
“When it seems almost too late, Harold Fry opens his battered heart and lets the world rush in. This funny, poignant story about an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey moved and inspired me.”—Nancy Horan, author ofLoving Frank
“There’s tremendous heart in this debut novel by Rachel Joyce, as she probes questions that are as simple as they are profound: Can we begin to live again, and live truly, as ourselves, even in middle age, when all seems ruined? Can we believe in hope when hope seems to have abandoned us? I found myself laughing through tears, rooting for Harold at every step of his journey. I’m still rooting for him.”—Paula McLain, author ofThe Paris Wife
“Marvelous! I held my breath at his every blister and cramp, and felt as if by turning the pages, I might help his impossible quest succeed.”—Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
“Harold’s journey is ordinary and extraordinary; it is a journey through the self, through modern society, through time and landscape. It is a funny book, a wise book, a charming book—but never cloying. It’s a book with a savage twist—and yet never seems manipulative. Perhaps because Harold himself is just wonderful. . . . I’m telling you now: I love this book.”—Erica Wagner,The Times (UK)
“The odyssey of a simple man . . . original, subtle and touching.”—Claire Tomalin, author ofCharles Dickens: A Life - (Random House, Inc.)