“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” was April’s ‘Kind of Like a Book Club’ book. If you read it, I hope you share your opinion in the comments section below. Don’t feel bad about disagreeing with me. I had a very strong reaction to this novel that I know not everyone shares. For example, a reviewer for the Washington Post called it “a cause for celebration”. I sure beg to differ.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Here’s what the story is about: Harold Fry is a 60-year-old retiree living in England with his bitter wife, Maureen. His life is empty and loveless, until one day he receives a letter from a former coworker named Queenie who is dying of cancer in a medical facility 500 miles away. Queenie is one of the few people in Harold’s life that has actually been decent to him, so the bad news really affects him. He scratches out an inadequate response and sets out on foot to mail it from the nearest mail box. Except when he gets there he isn’t ready to stop walking. He gets it into his head that Queenie will remain alive as long as he keeps walking. So he decides to walk the 500 miles to Queenie. Wearing boat shoes and a tie. Without a cell phone or gear. Without telling his wife first.
And so begins a journey not just across England, but through Harold’s head as we learn about his rotten parents, his rotten wife, his rotten son, his rotten boss and his rotten judgment. Harold is a character that alternately evokes great sympathy and profound frustration. Sometimes I wanted to give him a hug but mostly I wanted to shake him and tell him to buy some decent walking shoes already!
There are glimmers of hope in the book. Harold’s attitude is occasionally triumphant and he connects with some of the people he meets in a very decent, heartfelt way. But just when things are looking up, you’re slapped with a depressing reversal of fortune – his wife let’s him down, selfish people hijack his walk, even his dog abandons him.
This book is well written, but it’s a downer. It’s a well written downer. I spent last Saturday trying to get through it. The weather was gloomy, a few ants from the patio found their way into my bed and I was reading “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. Of the three, the rain and ants crawling on me were the least upsetting. I was kind of a mess by the end of the afternoon. It took 3 episodes of The Big Bang Theory to cheer me back up.
But here’s the deal – I don’t like sad or depressing books, so I was destined to not like this one. It’s a bias I have. I would really love to hear some additional opinions. Please share your thoughts below.