Rachel Joyce’s “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is a breath of fresh air. As we join the novel ‘s protagonist on a six hundred mile journey by foot from Kingsbridge to Berwick -up0n-Tweed, we inhale the great outdoors of the English countryside. As we do, we are reminded of how much most of us have lost touch with the simplest pleasures of human life. For Harold Fry is a modern everyman who, like many of us , has forgotten how to feel joy.
As Harold hikes from his home in Kingsbridge to St. Bernadine’s hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed to see a dying woman from his past, he simultaneously walks back through the history of his troubled marriage. He revisits scenes from his childhood as well, and mourns his parenting failures. But in the process, he becomes part of the rhythm of nature, feeling the sunshine on his skin, the earth beneath his feet, identifying various flora and fauna as he walks. He stops to look at a bird’s egg. He is pelted with cleansing rain. He rediscovers joy.
Eventually, however, blisters, sunburn, shin splints and swelling that actually ruptures his skin present him with challenges that would daunt all but the most determined. Nevertheless, he presses on, having made a spiritual commitment to keep walking if Queenie Hennessy will stay alive until he gets there. He believes that his quest is giving her hope and giving her the will to live.
A recluse and an introvert at the beginning of the story, Harold Fry discovers his connectedness with every other human being, and their connectedness with each other.
As the novel and the walkathon progress, Harold touches the hearts of many people and is touched by them. A recluse and an introvert at the beginning of the story, Harold Fry discovers his connectedness with every other human being, and their connectedness with each other. What would seem to be a pedestrian narrative in a figurative as well as a literal sense becomes a tale that is by turns suspenseful, heart-wringing and sweet, with more than a few surprises strewn along its path.