The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Rachel Joyce’s “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is a winner. I recently had a visit from my son’s friend from high school, and when she saw the book lying on my table, she exclaimed, “That’s the best book I have read all year.”

She also had read another one that was lying there, and I was delighted with the good taste of the younger generation.

It is a marvelous book. Harold Fry is Everyman. He is Walter Mitty. He is a nondescript sales representative retiree whose wife is irritated with everything he does.

Harold goes out to mail a letter and keeps going, determined to walk the 600 miles to a hospice where Queenie, a co-worker, whom he has not seen for 20 years and who once did him a favor, is dying of cancer. Dressed in yachting shoes and a light coat, he faces the elements, believing that as long as he walks, she will live.

A gifted storyteller, Joyce brings out with humor, charm and vigor, the thoughts and feelings we so often try to hide. She describes the colorful and eccentric people Harold meets, including hotel guests, the barman, a hiker, a woman who loved Jane Austen and one who gave him food. I was reminded of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” that I had to read so many years ago.

Harold discovers many things as he walks and slowly loses some of the garbage he has carried so long, mostly dealing with the death of his son. He calls his wife, Maureen, daily; he also calls the hospice to have the sisters tell his friend that he is coming and to hang on. Meanwhile, Maureen is making some changes of her own, thanks to the help of neighbor Rex.

The book is slow-starting but well worth the read, made even more enjoyable with an accompanying map that helps chart his journey.