When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else’s life.
We seem to have come across a fair few books about uprooting and wandering off without any real direction or plan. Whether or not this is the new genre of book that seems to be sweeping the nation is yet to be seen, but one thing I can say is that we seem to be reading all the great ones! I was quite excited about this book as it seemed to have an intriguing storyline and many positive reviews. Although I wasn’t too keen on the ending I still thought it was one of the best books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I was captivated from the very start and felt as though I was right there next to Harold as he struggled on his exhausting and life changing journey.
As the book is so beautifully and simplistically written I found myself turning the pages quicker than I could read them. I desperately wanted Harold to succeed with his journey, but I also wanted to know about his past and how he came to be in the position where he felt the need to walk 600 miles to save a friend whom he hadn’t seen for years. His journey is broken up by flashbacks to his earlier life with Maureen and his son. What happened to make them so distant from one another and just what happened to their son? The two stories get closer throughout the story and eventually intertwine to reveal the bigger picture. As a group, we found this style of writing both intriguing and engaging as some parts could become a little repetitive, so the break up of the story was welcomed. We also agreed that we enjoyed Harold’s journey more when he was on his own than when he was joined by other pilgrims. The others seemed to interfere with the balance of the story and became irritating after a while, but only until you reach the end can you appreciate just how clever the author was at creating feelings and emotions through the characters and the situations she created.
One aspect of the book that pretty much all of the group had agreed on was how we all changed our viewpoint of Harold’s wife, Maureen. Portrayed as a bitter, irritable and, at some points, an insufferable woman, she begins to become more likable and the more you learn of her story and how she became to be such a woman, you begin to feel for her story and begin to understand the tragedy that she has had to endure. The author, Rachel Joyce, creates characters that you can relate to, empathise with and follow as if they were passing your front window. Apart from our main characters we meet various people along Harold’s journey and each and every one of them had their own purpose, identity and relevance to the story that is very hard to craft in a debut novel.
Although Harold meets many people on his journey (and finds himself in good company most of the time), the overwhelming sense of loneliness is still strong and present throughout. I found it quite upsetting towards the end when Harold begins to lose faith and questions his own judgement and sanity. This is something which the group found to be quite poignant but didn’t quite prepare you for the final few chapters in which Harold meets Queenie. There are no banners, no cheering crowds, no media – just Queenie and her room. The story is laced with the numerous disappointments and heavy weights that come with life, but the final few chapters weigh the heaviest.
As I followed Harold on his journey I couldn’t help but wonder just how it was going to end. The closer Harold gets to Queenie the further he is from Maureen – both physically and mentally. It can’t possibly be a joyous ending. In fact, although a few of the group weren’t keen on the ending (me included) we agreed that there really couldn’t have been any other. The idea of Queenie recovering from her illness due to Harold’s determination and faith is a wonderful thought, but the author stays true to her story and writes it in the way that it should be. Sometimes there are no fairytale endings, but maybe we were following the wrong journey. In this case, the ending couldn’t have been better.
I can’t recommend this book enough – so give it a try!