Books with heft tend to draw my attention, the weightier the better. I suppose I’ve assumed a correlation between the number of pages and the satisfaction I will derive from reading them. When a friend shared her copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I agreed to give it a go.
I observed its small size, lifted its feather weight, and speculated as to its ability to keep me entertained. Well, dear reader, I stand corrected. Big things really do come in small packages.
Poor Old Harold
The journey with Harold is an enjoyable one notwithstanding the sorrows that plague his life. He is a sympathetic character who grew on me mile by mile. At 65 years of age, his career is finished, his wife sleeps in a separate room, and his only child is departed going on twenty years. When he receives a life changing letter from a dying friend, he determines to walk the length of England to deliver a message to her in person. Along the way, Harold tries to make sense of his life.
As Harold treks along, the memories visit more frequently and in more vivid detail. Walking becomes a meditative exercise, and long buried thoughts continue to surface. Many of us have unraveled a tangled issue by going for a walk . Eureka moments of creativity or problem solving can surprise us as we speed along a sidewalk.
Harold’s wife, Maureen, takes a journey that is more cerebral in nature. His absence allows her time to realize that she does indeed love him. A satisfying change in attitude from a character who sees the glass half empty.
Just Good Fun
Harold Fry is the British Forrest Gump. The goodness that he discovers in people delivers levity to the narrative. He journeys town to town, sharing the purpose of his mission, garnering sympathy and encouragement along the way. For a period of time, an assortment of quirky tagalongs merge into his pilgrimage, as they too search for meaning. His story moves people in unexpected ways. Much like Craigslist Joe, he lives on the kindness of others while he is on the road.
As Harold walks, he experiences the gamut of human emotion; self-doubt, grief, frustration, hope, and trust. Both he and Maureen offer a retrospective on their life together and their journey through grief. Author Rachel Joyce keeps us guessing until the end. What is Harold’s big secret?
In a few years, I plan to embark on my own pilgrimage through Spain. Camino de Santiago, here I come!
Deck shoes and duct tape!