The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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Rachel Joyce’s first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, has led the author to winning Writer of the Year at the 2012 National Book Awards – and deservedly so.

This emotional, touching novel is beautifully written and concerns the protagonist Harold Fry, on his quest to post a letter to his old friend, Queenie Hennessy, who we learn is terminally ill with cancer. This debut novel tackles heart-wrenching and difficult topics such as death, loss and suffering – which lead the reader to connect deeply with Harold as we root for him on his journey. While Harold’s journey initially starts with him walking to the end of the road to post his short reply to Queenie, he soon ends up wanting to walk the whole distance, six hundred miles or so, to where Queenie is staying in hospital – with no map or mobile to help him.

Memories and flashbacks are used in a way that adds colour and texture to the narrative; while Harold bravely continues with his actual journey, the metaphorical journey through his thoughts and feelings about life unravel as the narrative moves along. Joyce writes simply and wonderfully about fractured family relationships and of lost love. While this is lovely to read, I was struck by how the tone quickly changed into a morbid and upsetting one, which continued throughout the novel.

The different narrative voices from Harold, his wife Maureen, and Queenie keeps the novel fresh and interesting while still using the third person viewpoint to cleverly connect with each character, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.

Harold Fry is a fully developed character and as the reader shares in his journey, we try to understand the protagonist as he endures emotional and physical pain and struggle.

Harold resonates with the reader, which made me desperate to find out more about his life and ultimately whether he makes it to see Queenie. Joyce’s book certainly is a thought provoking read, tapping into sensitive and raw issues, which will move and touch your emotions with every page turn.
By Tamsin Crouch