The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Book rating: 05 Paperback

By (author) Rachel Joyce

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  • Publisher: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback | 384 pages
  • Dimensions: 126mm x 196mm x 26mm | 260g
  • Publication date: 2 January 2013
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0552778095
  • ISBN 13: 9780552778091
  • Illustrations note: chapter heads
  • Sales rank: 4,145

Product description

When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else's life. "The odyssey of a simple man, original, subtle and touching." (Claire Tomalin). "From the moment I met Harold Fry, I didn't want to leave him. Impossible to put down." (Erica Wagner, "The Times").

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Author information

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Perfect. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into 34 languages. Rachel Joyce was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards 'New Writer of the Year' in December 2012. She is also the author of the digital short story, A Faraway Smell of Lemon and is the award-winning writer of over 30 original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4. Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire.

Customer reviews

By Marianne Vincent 25 Aug 2014 5

"Beyond the window, the sky was a fragile blue, almost breakable, flecked with wisps of cloud, and the treetops were bathed in warm, golden light. Their branches swung in the breeze, beckoning him forward."
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the first novel by actress, radio playwright and author, Rachel Joyce. Queenie Hennessy has terminal cancer. With nothing further to be done, she sends a letter from St Bernadine's Hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed to let Harold Fry, her one-time colleague in Devon, know. Harold, an ordinary man who has always tried hard to be unobtrusive, writes a reply, but on reflection, during his walk to the post-box, deems this insufficient. Wearing yachting shoes, and without telling Maureen, his wife of forty-seven years, he sets off to walk to Berwick-upon-Tweed, a distance of more than five hundred miles, convinced that he can save Queenie by faith alone. Along the way, he encounters the cross-section of society, and is heartened by the kindness of strangers. But he also encounters his own thoughts, fears and regrets. He finds he is no longer able to stop the memories tumbling out of his brain: memories of parents unable to show love, his anxieties with his own son, David, and the events that derailed his marriage ("In walking, he unleashed the past that he had spent twenty years seeking to avoid, and now it chattered and played through his head with a wild energy that was its own."). In his absence, Maureen, too, is plagued by doubts and misgivings. Queenie's letter, it seems, has become a catalyst for change.
As the story progresses, the reader becomes increasingly intrigued as to why, twenty years ago, relations between Harold and Maureen distinctly cooled, Queenie left Devon without saying goodbye and Harold has not seen his son since. Joyce's characters are appealing and multi-dimensional: Harold is immediately likeable despite his many flaws; Maureen starts off stereotypical but reveals hidden depths. Joyce treats the reader to a wealth of beautiful descriptive prose: "...the day fought against night and light seeped into the horizon, so pale it was without colour. Birds burst into song as the distance began to emerge and the day grew more confident; the sky moved through grey, cream, peach, indigo, and into blue. A soft tongue of mist crept the length of the valley floor so that the hilltops and houses seemed to rise out of cloud. Already the moon was a wispy thing" and "Harold lay in his bed, his body so taut with listening he felt that he was more silence than boy" are but two examples.
Similarly, she evokes feelings and mood with wonderful skill: "But sometimes he was afraid that having one son was too much to bear. He wondered if the pain of loving became diluted, the more you had?" and "He felt dulled with such apathy it was like being at the brewery again in the years following Queenie's departure; like being an empty space inside a suit, that said words sometimes and heard them, that got in a car every day and returned home, but was no longer connected up to other people." Her description of Maureen's rearrangement of the wardrobe conveys a poignancy that leaves a lump in the throat. Joyce gives the reader a novel filled with humour and heartache, wit and wisdom. The illustrations by Andrew Davidson at the start of each chapter are charming and the map by John Taylor is a helpful addition. This novel is moving, heart-warming and quite uplifting and readers will look forward to the companion volume, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

Review quote

"One of the sweetest, most delicately-written stories I've read in a long time. One man's walk along the length of England to save the life of a dying woman. Each chapter describes a different encounter along the way, with a definite nod to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Philosophical, intriguing, and profoundly moving." -- Richard Madeley Foyles website "Uplifting, funny and delicate" -- Jon Stock The Daily Telegraph "At times almost unbearably moving." Sunday Times "A brilliant and charming novel: full of comic panache yet acute and poignant." Spectator "one of the most moving, uplifting, inspiring novels I've ever read" Richard Madeley

Editorial reviews

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry 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...This book may follow a pattern set by another radio dramatist-turned-novelist, David Nicholls, whose One Day has now sold more than a million copies and been made into a successful film simply because one reader said to another ‘I love this book’ over and over again. So I’m telling you now: I love this book.