By Rachel Joyce
How I got this book: GoodReads First Reads Program, Random House
I really, really enjoyed this book. I can’t wait until it is released (July 2012) because I am going to have to buy a final copy of it for my shelves. I will have to read it again and push it on to my family and friends. It doesn’t have a lot of action but instead a quiet, reflective novel about an unlikely hero, Harold Fry. Harold is a recent retiree, he and his wife sleep in separate bedrooms hardly talk, and each new day is much like the last. That is until he receives a goodbye letter from a former friend and colleague, Queenie Hennessy whom he hasn’t seen for 20 years. Queenie is writing to say goodbye. She has cancer and is in hospice. Harold writes a few sentences that don’t amount to much and sets off in deck shoes and whatever he is wearing to post his letter. Because it feels good to walk and the well of emotions that start to bubble up, Harold decides to make it to the next letter box. Through a chance conversation, he decides to walk the 500 something miles to see Queenie with the conviction that she will live if he can make it.
This journey is both literal and metaphorical. He travels a great distance and goes through physical and emotional pain to get where he needs to go. He is a modern day pilgrim walking the length of England to find a cure for what ails his friend, but while Queenie’s need is dire, so is his relationship with his wife and son. Getting out of his daily grind is exactly what he needs to do to remember, reflect and understand where he is, how he got there and what changes he needs to make to survive his life and relationships.
The narrator is omniscient, so the reader can follow Harold’s walking and internal adventures as well as those of his wife Maureen. She misses her husband for the first time ever, and finds it is no fun to clean like a dervish and bang things around like a martyr if there is no one there to feel guilty. (I love that by the way, I have done that a time or two, not that I am proud of it.) We find out what is really going on in their quiet lives as they do. Huge realizations are made and they decide if they want to stay with each other and fix things, or not.
Besides these two main characters we get a load of amazingly interesting character cameos. Harold becomes famous, a little like Forest Gump when he is doing his cross-country running, and finds himself having to rely on the goodness of strangers. I loved the movie star bit, the doctor waiting for her boyfriend who never returned and the dog. Things aren’t all fluffy, the book can be dark, melancholy and sad at times sprinkled with silly. A bit like life, really.
It is an impossible quest and I wanted to go out and help him along. I really became immersed in this book and enjoyed these very real people so much. It makes you laugh, cry, want to hug your family and friends and made me appreciate the power of faith, just a little bit more. I give this book 5 stars.