Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce (Audio)

Gentle books and I don't always get along.  I don't like this about myself...that I apparently need excitement and twists and action.  I don't have much time these days to sit, undisturbed, and concentrate on complex issues embedded within a smart literary novel.  I'll put that activity on my list of things to do when my kids go to college!

But this title caught my eye.  Fizzy Jill (after an unsatisfying adventure with the book "Wild") said that "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" was the book she wanted "Wild" to be.  Ti called it a gem.  It sounded gentle to me, but I was able to get it on audio from the library so I gave it a shot.


Synopsis:  Harold Fry and his wife Maureen are both in their sixties, retired,  growing old and growing apart.  While Maureen stays busy scrubbing their little home, Harold is going a little crazy without anything to do, and has given up on there being anything but estrangement and bitterness between them.  One day, Harold receives a letter from an old friend and work mate Queenie Hennessey, who he hasn't seen in years.  Queenie notifies him that she is terminally ill, residing in a hospice some 600 miles away, and wants to express her thanks for his friendship and to say goodbye.  Harold pens a note back to her, but instead of dropping his letter in the mailbox on the corner, he keeps walking.  Without a cell phone, in his boat shoes, without food, Harold impulsively decides that if Queenie knows he is walking to see her, she will stay alive and he will save her.

Much of what is hidden in Harold's heart is laid bare throughout this journey. Not only is Harold forced to deal with the physical hardship of exertion and exhaustion, but in the solitude he must face his thoughts and life's memories.  Is it selfish to drain his retirement fund to purchase food and housing along the way?  He misses Maureen, but wonders if she cares if he is gone?  He thinks about his son, who is no longer a part of their lives.  Did he fail the son somewhere, thus causing the escalating behavior issues, the drug abuse, the wayward restlessness and depression?  And then there is the untold story of Queenie that slowly unfurls in his mind over the miles.

Harold meets humanity from all walks of life on his journey.  Businessmen, feminist bikers, drifters, immigrant physicians, teenage slackers.  Some make a huge impression on him, some take advantage of him, some offer moral support or gifts.  But he tucks them all into his heart and takes them with him on this grueling but life-affirming pilgrimage.  

My thoughts:  This book was a very pleasant surprise for me.  I expected to be lulled into a state of fog by the gentleness and lack of action.  Instead, what I got was something extremely emotional and gritty.  There were even a few turns in the plot that shocked and devastated me.  

Was it a downer?  Because I know I'm talking like it was.  Part of it was very visceral - it wrung me out.  Regret at the end of a life is a heavy burden.  Feeling like you have failed a child, who was once a pudgy baby but turns into an angry adult, is a heavy burden.  Failing at a marriage is a heavy burden.  But Harold learns his lessons along the way, learns about himself, and by the end, you have hope for this man.  Ultimately I was uplifted.

And crazy as it seems with a book like this, I found it suspenseful!  Like...will Harold make it?  Will he give up?  Why is Queenie so important to Harold?  Will she live long enough to see Harold one more time?  These are questions that propelled me through to the end.   

Have you ever seen the movie "The Straight Story"?  A precious movie, about an old man who is estranged from his brother.  The old man cannot drive, so he hops on his John Deere lawn mower and heads across several states to make amends with his brother, who has taken ill, meeting mankind along the way.  These two stories were so similar in my mind.  If you liked this book, you should watch "The Straight Story".

A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this story was Jim Broadbent.  I've not heard him before, but it tickled me to see that he narrates Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  He has a charming, kind, British accent that is perfect for Pooh and for Harold.  He was a pleasure to listen to.

Audiobook length:  9 hours and 57 minutes (336 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars       
     

22 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Gentle and downer is not a combination I want!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I must be off to find a copy of this book. I gotta read this! :-) Thank you.

Mary (Bookfan) said...

I listened to this book a few months ago and lived it!

Mary (Bookfan) said...

*loved*. Darn iPad keyboard!

Jackie Bailey said...

I wasn't a big fan of this one, but I can see how it might have worked better on audio. Jim Broadbent is a well-loved actor over here and I can see how he'd be perfect for this. Glad you enjoyed it.

annieb said...

I loved this book as well and being around the same age as Harold it resonated with me a lot. If you want to see Jim Broadbent at his most amazing, you should see the movie Iris with him and Judi Dench. He is also in Cloud Atlas.

Ti said...

It was a surprise when I read it too. I knew it was leading up to something, but wasn't quite sure what. I felt for him a the end.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I loved everything about this book and bawled my eyes out in several scenes. Harold was compelling and endearing and I forgave him his faults from page one. Loved this book.

bermudaonion said...

This book has gotten a lot of positive buzz. I've got it in print and hope to experience it that one one of these days. Do you think it would be a good book club read?

Zibilee said...

A kind friend sent this along to me, and I have been reluctant to read it because I thought it would be too dull. But then there was all the hype, and I worried that I would miss out. I think your honest and candid reactions have swayed me to grab this one after my current read. I need some gentle and thoughtfulness. Very wise and wonderful review today. Harold Fry, here I come!!

Meg @ write meg! said...

I absolutely loved this book -- and it's going in my top five for the year. Harold is such a sweet character, and I agree that the story felt very suspenseful! I desperately wanted him to complete his quest, and I cried several times. Joyce's writing is lovely. So glad you enjoyed it!

caite said...

I tried this one...and did not finish it. Maybe I was just in a 'mood'...because all I have seen are positive reviews.

Jenny said...

I know what you mean about this book seeming "gentle". This is one of those that normally I'd end up reading just because everyone says to but not because I'm actually interested in it, LOL. But you do have a way of really selling some of these books! I'll keep it in mind for one day. :)

Jenners said...

I know!! I felt the same way. I went into it thinking it was going to be a silly charming little story and got much more than I bargained for -- in the best way possible. I was just shocked at the end when we find out about David. She did a great job of weaving an intricate and multi-layered story that far exceeded my expectations.

And you should know Jim Broadbent -- he's quite a well known actor, Ms. Movie Pants! http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000980/

JoAnn said...

I loved this book in print... glad to know the audio is well-done, too!

Nise' said...

Brought this book home from the library today after remembering the good reviews.

Tasha B. said...

This is one of the better reviews of this book I read, I think! I also worried it'd be a bit of a downer, but I wouldn't expect a book like this to be gritty and visceral. Sounds like it's worth checking out.

Alyce said...

I've seen a ton of positive reviews for this one and a few negative - I tend to think I'd probably like it though. The Straight Story sounds really good too.

softdrink said...

Whew, glad we didn't lead you astray!

Trisha said...

Now that is a ton of recommendations from bloggers I like right there....

Marie said...

I thought the book was very suspenseful, too. I wondered what she would come up with to fill all those pages, and how it would turn out. It's a terrific read, darker than someone might expect but terrific.

Julie P. said...

Might just have to move this one up on my TBR pile.