Harold lives in Kingsbridge, England. He’s in his mid-sixties, recently retired, and not happily married to his wife Maureen. One day, he receives a letter from a former co-worker he hasn’t seen in years, Queenie, who’s in a hospice six hundred miles away at Berwick-Upon-Tweed, also in England, dying of cancer, writing to say goodbye. He answers her letter, walks to the mailbox with it, but then decides to trek the six hundred miles to the hospice in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, thinking that will save her. Thus begins The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.
Harold sets off immediately without proper shoes, a cell phone, map, or other necessary equipment, and along the way, he meets a cast of interesting characters, gains media attention, and attracts followers who also want to save Queenie. During the course of Harold’s walk, we learn about his life growing up with a mother who left when he was a boy and a father who kicked him out when he turned sixteen and his relationship with Queenie and Maureen. Close to the end, a shocking secret is revealed about Harold’s son. I downloaded this book from Audible, and the British narrator, Jim Broadbent, does an excellent job, making characters come alive and giving each of them his/her own voice. I also like the way the author tells the story from both Harold’s and Maureen’s points of view.
According to Rachel Joyce’s Website, she has written a variety of plays for BBC radio and television. In 2007, she won the Tinniswood Award for best radio play. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is her first novel, and she’s working on a second one, Perfect. She lives in Gloucestershire, England, with her husband and four children.
As I started reading this book, I wondered for a fleeting moment if I walked the one mile from my home to Sheridan Manor when Bill’s health was declining, would that have saved him? It’s highly unlikely, just as it wasn’t likely that Harold walking six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed would have saved Queenie, but hope springs eternal, right? I don’t know why I chose to read this book at this time, but I’m glad I did because it gave me a new perspective on life and death.