The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry


Author: Rachel Joyce, 2012

This book was recommended to me by a couple of folk on Twitter to fill the book-shaped gap I had after finishing Partitions. It sounded an interesting concept, so I was eager to get reading.

I am a stickler for realism in various things: when I watch action films, I wonder why the scantily clad ladies didn't think to bring a cardi with them, and why they didn't just wear comfy jeans and trainers if they knew they were going to be running about. I demand to know why superheroes seem to think capes are a good idea, when they can easily get snagged on twigs or door handles.

So I was left pretty disappointed with this book. I thought it was idealised to a fault-i wanted it to be gritty and realistic, I wanted to know the grey, grubby, mundane details of Harold's walk and his coming to terms with his friend's cancer.

Instead, it didn't seem to ring true. I couldn't bring myself to care very much about Harold or Maureen, as I just couldn't relate to them, and I found the other bit part characters vacuous and unreal. They just didn't seem to have the depth and gravitas of real people. The reasons for Harold's "pilgrimage" are addressed and questioned, but in a seemingly tokenistic sort of way.

I was way ahead of the 'reveal' about their son, David, and again I found what should have been an emotional and disturbing scene cold and clinical, and pretty naive.

The storyline was pretty repetitive too: Harold is all positive. Harold is sad and negative, oh he's all happy again, oh now he's sad etc. Whole swathes of his journey were skimmed over, which took me out of his story even more.

I was also rather riled by one very small, but important to me, detail: a reference to a pharmacist as a 'shopkeeper'

I could sort of see where the author was coming from, but I felt that in an attempt to be terribly profound, it became too obvious for my taste and lost any profundity it may have had. Which is a shame, as at its heart is a really valuable humanist message. I just think the delivery needed to be a lot more honest, gritty, and less naive.

But that's my opinion, and you are of course free to ignore it at your will :)


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