Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

I have enjoyed improbably journey stories before. In the movie The Straight Story (1999), an elderly farmer from Iowa rides a small riding mower over 300 miles to Wisconsin to reconcile with his dying brother. In the BBC's mini-series The Missing Postman (1997), a retiring postman empties his last letter box and to protest against new letter-sorting equipment vows to deliver his last bag of letters by bicycle across Great Britain. Both of these stories mix humor and melancholy and feature aging men unhappy about the drift of their lives. I expected a similar situation in the novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I was not disappointed.

I do not, however, want to suggest that The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is to be read for laughs. It is filled with delightful details, some of which are funny, but its hero Harold Fry is a complicated character with serious issues to address. His quest to walk across Britain to visit a dying friend will prove his making or breaking. Never predictable, the novel is continually entertaining and honest.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is Joyce's first novel after writing over 20 plays for BBC Radio. I hope she writes more. It was included in the long list for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction and has been read by many book clubs. It is widely available.

Joyce, Rachel. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Random House, 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780812993295.

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