Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go to the last Book Club, so this update is a little late, and I have relied on other people to let me know the general opinions of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. A lot of my own opinions have naturally made their way into this review because of this.
As the title suggests, Harold Fry takes it upon himself to walk several hundred miles from Devon to Berwick upon Tweed, after receiving a letter from an old work colleague telling him she is in a hospice and doesn’t have long to live. He faces hardships along the way, meets some interesting people, and reflects on his life; his mysterious betrayal of his dying friend Queenie, his disintegrating marriage to Maureen, and his strained relationship with their son David. It seems that although everyone thought this was an easy read, and on many levels an enjoyable one, there were several issues with this book. Harold seemed a difficult character to like, and I’m not sure why. Its possibly because his motivations are a little difficult to understand, though I’m sure this was an intentional move by the author. Personally I couldn’t really identify with any of the characters and there wasn’t anyone, apart from perhaps their neighbour Rex, who I actually liked.
Ultimately this book is a social commentary on several things, namely how people feel the need to atone for the mistakes they have made in their lives and how they might go about doing that, as well as how events in your past might effect how you form relationships as an adult. That’s fine, but the package this message is wrapped up in just felt distinctly underwhelming. Again, this was no doubt done on purpose; not everyone lives fantastical lives full of extraordinary events. But I found myself waiting for the story to turn into something more, for Harold and Queenie’s relationship to really develop via the flashbacks, for there to be that moment where the reader stops and thinks, Well I didn’t see that coming. But instead all I got was flowery, over egged descriptions, and came away with the notion that the author had felt the need to make every other sentence some sort of epic revelation about the state of life today:
“With or without him, the moon and the wind would go on, rising and falling. The land would keep stretching ahead until it reached the sea. People would keep dying. It made no difference if Harold walked, or trembled, or stayed at home.”
This, unfortunately, wasn’t enough to hold my attention, and when coupled with the highly irritating fact that Harold refused to wear better shoes (another obvious metaphor for something that I couldn’t be bothered to work out), I’m afraid I would only give this unlikely pilgrimage 2 stars.