The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

On the one hand, it feels like I need to come back with something profound and insightful after a six month break.  (SIX MONTHS!  Let’s just shelve that for now,shall we?  Because I’m overwhelmed enough by the simple act of trying to write again without explaining the past six months.)  On the other, we could all use some wit and levity.  (VAGINA!  You’re welcome.)  On the both hands (Did you see that fancy writing right there?  Like riding a bicycle.  Without a helmet.  Or arms.), I’m not sure I have either of those in me right now.  So instead, I think I’ll burst my scabbed-over writing hymen with someone else’s words.  Someone that possesses both wit and wisdom – Rachel Joyce.

“…it never ceases to amaze me how difficult the things that are supposed to be instinctive really are.”

She wet her lower lip with her tongue, waiting for more words.  “Eating,” she said at last.  “That’s another one.  Some people have real difficulties with that.  Talking too.  Even loving.  They can all be difficult.”  She watched the garden, not Harold.

“Sleeping,” he said.

She turned.  “Don’t you sleep?”

“Not always.”  He reached for more apple.

There was another silence.  Then she said, “Children.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“There’s another one.”

Rather than try and strong-arm myself into writing, I’ve been hiding under the covers of reading.  I started out with old friends like Scout Finch and Mary Lennox.  Then I made a few new friends – friends like Harold Fry.

The silver-haired gentleman was in truth nothing like the man Harold had first iamagined him to be.  He was a chap like himself, with a unique pain; and yet there would be no knowing that if you passed him in the street, or sat opposite him in a cafe and did not share his teacake.  Harold pictured the gentleman on a station platform, smart in his suit, looking no different from anyone else.  It must be the same all over England.  People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters.  And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside.  The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday.  The loneliness of that.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is perfect – delightfully British, dry in wit, subtle in message, wet with emotion.  I loved it.  Flat out loved it.  Loved.  (P.S. Loved.)

For me, the most interesting aspect of the story was Harold’s relationship with his wife.  Or lack thereof.  It’s so very easy to take a spouse or partner for granted, to lapse into the laziness of not thinking before snapping a tired response to an empty question, to assume your partner’s day couldn’t possibly haven been as difficult as yours, to presume that past tendernesses carry more weight than recent dismissals.  It’s reminder that time conspires to tear us apart – both through our individual cruelties and those of fate.

“When the doctors told us she was dying, I held her hand and gave up.  We both did.  I know it wouldn’t have made any difference in the end, but I wish I had let her see how much I wanted to keep her.  I should have raged, Maureen.”

He sat bent over his cup of tea, as if in prayer.  He didn’t look up.  He repeated the words with a quiet intensity she had not seen in him before, so that his cup trembled on its saucer.  His knuckles were pure bone.  “I should have raged.”

I’m making the book sound like a total downer, aren’t I?  It’s not.  Pinky swears.  I need a depressing book like the Kardashians need padded bras.  I promise you – there is so much hope sandwiched in the pages of this book.  Hope for acceptance.  Hope for healing.  Hope for…well for hope’s sake.

“I miss her all the time. I know in my head that she has gone, but I still keep looking. The only difference is that I’m getting used to the pain. It’s like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with, you forget it’s there and you keep falling in. After a while, it’s still there, but you learn to walk around it.”

GAH!  Beauty, tragedy, and comfort all in one little paragraph.  Call me nuts, but every time I read that passage I feel like I’ve been forgiven.  No idea for what, mind you.  But it’s a wonderful and cathartic feeling all the same.

And the imagery?  The writing itself?  *swoon*

The stars began to prick the night sky, one after another, so that the growing darkness trembled.

And Joyce created a wondrous, perfectly imperfect character in Harold Fry.  I won’t soon forget him.

He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too.  The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.  Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.




  1. El-Elly? Elly is that you?


    From what I’ve seen of the excerpts, I may be adding this to my reading list.

  2. Good God woman – where the hell have you been?

    You don’t have to explain, just know I’m happy you’re back. I hope all is well in your world, mine is a little brighter now.


  3. I’d say you nailed it with “I think I’ll burst my scabbed-over writing hymen.”

  4. Yeah!!!! I will take anything after such a drought. Cat videos. Streams of texts with only the word vaginal in different type faces. A word cloud of words that Paul makes.

    II have been intrigued by the book. And now I am going to kindle it as soon as I leave here.

    1. Not all. I’m still waiting for someone to find you a cure that requires only receiving regular full body massages from Justin Timberlake and daily wine infusions.

  5. Fuck yeah, yer back!
    I’ve been doing the hidey, read-y thing too without much success. Except The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. That shit was magical.
    Put this on my hold list from the library. Hopefully it will end my meh streak.

  6. Welcome back and Thank you, thank you, thank you for the great book referral. Just finished it, so good. words, put together so beautifully, brought tears to my eyes several times. I will always take your suggestions from this day forth!

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