Fabulous Fiction Firsts #349
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry * is currently enjoying a lot of media interest. Debut novelist Rachel Joyce's is an award-winning playwright for BBC Radio 4 after a long career as an actor for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Pre-publication blurbs by the likes of Helen Simonson (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand) didn't hurt either.
The pilgrimage is a 627 miles trek over 87 days from a small village in South Hams to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It is "unlikely" because Harold Fry, a solitary and sedentary retired brewery salesman, on his way to the mailbox, decides to walk (in his yachting shoes) to Queenie Hennessy, a colleague he hasn't seen or heard from in 20 years. Queenie is dying and wrote to say goodbye. A chance encounter in a convenience mart convinces Harold that Queenie will live if he delivers his message in person, and perhaps settle their unfinished business.
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. Before you know it, he is on the news and to his chagrin, he has acquired himself followers, whose stories "surprised and moved him, and none have left him untouched". But ultimately, it is the readers who are touched - by this ordinary man on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery.
* = starred review