Harold Fry receives a letter from an old colleague informing him that she has cancer and is writing to say goodbye. He pens a response, sets out to the pillar box, can’t bring himself to post the letter and walks on to the next … and so begins Harold’s pilgrimage from Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed. The reader follows him through wind and shine, sharing his encounters, his pain and elation and his personal journey as he reflects as he walks. It is very much a gentle paced road movie!
We generally agreed that the book could have been a little shorter – there was a feeling of frustration about Harold’s loss of direction and focus in the last few miles of his walk – we were ready for him to arrive in Berwick, but maybe Harold in his heart of hearts wasn’t – he wasn’t ready to go back to his old life, and he didn’t know that Maureen, his wife with whom he had shared a strained relationship for many years, had also been forced to re-evaluate her life and actions.
You have to be prepared to suspend belief –given his general fitness and lack of preparation would he in reality even have made it to Exeter! However – that is what fiction is about! What made an impression was the good will and help he received along the way – the kindness of strangers, and the way they responded to his quest, although social media plays a part and for a time he is not alone, but is joined by a band of other walkers and his personal journey is hijacked.
Rachel Joyce’s writing is simple, but flowing and the book was an easy read. The observational details are lovely. The book has darker undercurrents – it looks at communication within personal relationships, the need to take responsibility and the long term effects of a tragedy that has not been confronted, however the ending is something of a redemption – which you would expect from a pilgrimage.