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By on June 23, 2014

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel JoyceThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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.

Reviews

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 of Loving 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 of The 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 of Charles Dickens: A Life

“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry takes the most ordinary and unassuming of men and turns him into a hero for us all. To go on this journey with Harold will not only break your heart, it might just also heal it.”—Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

“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.”—Carol Haggas, Booklist

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