[Books Read] The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

A fairly short, easy read. The language is clear and unstylised. The 32 chapters are fairly short. It’s about 300 pages, but the font is pretty large, with much white space. I didn’t count the words.

The plot is straightforward: a man walks to Berwick to save the life of a former work colleague. But the journey is really an unfolding of the collapse of Harold’s marriage after the suicide of their son. At the end, the resolution is a reavowing of the marriage and their love, represented by them laughing over a crappy old joke she made when they first met.

The themes of the book are carpe diem, doing something instead of battening down the hatches and surviving. The beauty and eccentricities of Britain. The extraordinary of the ordinary. The overwhelming mundanity of life: everyone has their own huge problems and you will never understand because you are lost in your own.

I was recommended to read this book by Selena (I think), a publisher, after I pitched Unfinished Animals to her and Jonny Geller at the CBC course in 2018. It’s a similar tale of transformation through pilgrimage, set to a fond portrait of Britain.

A few things struck me about the book:
– the sparsity of the language
– the clever unfolding of the real heart of the book, the unpicking of their marriage and the dark secrets they have been withholding from each other and Rachel from the reader
– how quickly the book gets going: Harold was walking by the end of the first chapter, 3000 words in. At first I was surprised by this: Maureen hadn’t been set up very well, but as the book progressed, I realised that this was because the real journey was backwards through their marriage and their secret past. Setting too much up at the beginning would have been an error. The reader needs to be in the dark to begin with; to think that there’s not much more to this relationship than presented, so that there is such satisfaction with each progressive reveal. Clever.

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