Whenever I read a book with a character’s name in the title like Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I find myself inadvertently questioning the book already. Who is Harold Fry? Why is he so important that it warrants putting his name in the title? Why is he going on a pilgrimage? Why is this pilgrimage so unlikely? I guess all these questions were partly the reason why I picked up and began to read all about Mr Harold Fry.
Harold Fry is just an ordinary retired man living an ordinary life filled with routine when one day all this changes. It starts out with Harold taking a walk to the postbox to post a simple sympathy letter. But, instead of walking there and walking back, he just keeps going. And so begins Harold’s journey, walking from the south of England to the north, to see an old friend, he hardly remembers, before she dies. As he walks he begins to relive his past and will learn a few things about himself and those around him, he’s never really noticed, along the way. But, will Harold make it to his friend in time with so many internal and external obstacles in the way?
This book is another in a long line of books that have not yet been made into films. However, unlike some of the other books that would make excellent films if done right, I don’t think this book would make a very good film. There is far too much internal monologue, sentiments and feelings which are fantastic in the novel but wouldn’t translate very well onto a silver screen. Unfortunately (for all those who would rather see the movie), while reading the book provides a picture of a retired old man walking and affords opportunities to reach deep into his psyche (yes psychologists, this would be a great book for you), on a screen, where thoughts can be spoken by a narrator but a viewer cannot interpret what is not said the way a reader can, all a viewer is really going to see is a little old man going for a really long walk around England (not exactly the most exciting of plots for fans of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, The Da Vinci Code or even The Big Bang Theory). The fact is, some stories are just better in print and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one such story.
In My Humble Opinion:
I told you the title, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, left me with questions which provoked me to read the book. While some of my questions were answered in the course of reading, I was also offered with the chance to wonder a little more as I began to read Harold’s story.
A technique that Rachel Joyce uses throughout the story which can be both fascinating (if you like to write) and maddening (if you like to read) is to provide the reader with snippets of information but withhold all the information so that the reader is left wondering. She does this by delving into Harold Fry’s thoughts where it soon becomes clear that he is trying desperately to both remember the good and forget the bad. Harold tends to push hard to remember the good but finds it difficult. The result is a transfer of only the information that Harold can remember, which is not always enough to satisfy the curious among us who like to ask why? and how? Harold also tends to block out the bad which means that as soon as a snippet of a bad memory comes his way, Harold tends to stop it from developing. The result is that the reader get a snippet of this memory but not enough to understand it before Harold maneuvers onto something else.
The consequence of all of this is that the reader begins to understand Harold Fry as a person a little better. He becomes more human as we begin to almost understand him. When I read this book, it didn’t particularly appeal to me but I know why now. As I read and began to understand Harold Fry and he became almost an extension of myself since I was privy to Harold’s internal thoughts (thoughts that are usually only accessible to the person thinking them). Harold’s internal thoughts were, I’m not going to lie, very depressing though with beautiful hints of optimism every now and then. I found myself shuddering at Harold’s dark thoughts; though I thought his optimism inspiring.
This is why The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is such a good book for psychologists to read (but perhaps have a box of tissues and a joke book nearby just in case). How often are you afforded the opportunity to delve deep into a person’s inner thoughts, to corners of their mind that others can only inaccurately guess at? Harold Fry’s mind is almost laid bear in this novel as he takes the outward journey from south to north and an inward journey from the past to the future. The results may at times be frightening but they make for a very interesting read.
But, these thoughts, which are fleeting and sometimes only appear in part, did have the unfortunate side-effect of leaving me with more questions than I started with before reading the first page. The questions like, who is Harold Fry, why is he going on a pilgrimage and why is this pilgrimage so unlikely, were answered in the book but were replaced by even more puzzling questions about the reason for Harold Fry’s thoughts and feelings and those of the people around him.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a particularly good book to read if you are interested in human nature, curious about the minds of others and ready to read a rather different social commentary on the lives of the common, ordinary (yet not so ordinary) man. Grab a copy of this book by hitting the book title link below the image which will take you to Amazon. I hope you find this book as introspective and intriguing as I did.