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April 6, 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Fiction
2012 Random House Audio
Reader: Jim Broadbent
Finished on 3/5/13
Rating: 3/5 (Good)



Author’s Blurb:

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.

Sigh. I really wanted to fall in love with this novel. I’d heard very good things about it and was excited to begin as soon as the audio showed up in my library queue. Maybe the print edition is better than the audio, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the narrative (through no fault of the excellent reading by Jim Broadbent). As I listened, I found myself comparing the story to that of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, which I enjoyed tremendously, but Joyce’s debut novel was a bit flat and I never felt fully engaged in the story.

I did discover one gem that I’d like to share:
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 superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.

Final Thoughts: Good, but not great. While it might appeal to fans of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, I felt The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was a little too sentimental for my taste. However, once again I’m in the minority. Take a moment to read Heather’s lovely blog post (and the follow-up comments) before you decide to skip this novel. Note to self: Leave the audio books to thrillers, mysteries, and horror, and save the printed copies for more literary novels.

Go here to listen to the author speak with Diane Rehm on NPR.

20 comments:

  1. too bad you weren't wild about it, i gave it 5 stars, i adore english books. i have only ever listened to one audio book, i get the joy from reading, although when stuck in a car it is an excellent way to keep up on books :-)

    have you read mr rosenblum reads in english? i thought it was another excellent english book...

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    1. I love both print and audio books, but as I've gotten more interested in audio, I've discovered that literary novels are best read rather than listen to.

      I read Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, but didn't fall in love with that one either. :(

      Thanks for stopping by. You have a beautiful blog!

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  2. I felt the same. It was a bit too much for me. It was so obviously sentimental that I just couldn't relate. But funny enough, I love the line you quoted. It stood out to me, too. :)

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    1. Thank you! Now I don't feel so bad about giving this such a meh review. As I mentioned above to another commenter, I didn't care for Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, either. Have you read it?

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  3. Oh dear. I think I would probably like this one less than you because I didn't think MPLS was all that great. That's okay, though. I like removing books from my TBR lists. Thanks again! :)

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    1. Happy to help, Joy. ;)

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  4. I've heard great things about this one too. I'll probably still give it a try but it's nice to have my expectations tempered.

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    1. Do! It may be one you wind up loving. I truly hope so.

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  5. Oh no....yes, this is a case where you might have had a better experience with the print version I am pretty sure:(

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    1. I know, I know. I've just grown to love listening to audios, especially when I'm not sure if I want to take the time to read the book. Live and learn!

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  6. I still haven't read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - so I'll do that!

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    1. It's quite good, but it takes a little while to get interested. I gave it a 4/5, which is a pretty good rating, but it's not one I'm eager to re-read.

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  7. I loved this book, but I did read it. Sometimes I wonder if the audio can make or break a book that if you had read it would've loved otherwise.

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    1. I think you're right. I'm really going to have to be more selective when it comes to audio books. I hate to miss out on a good read!

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  8. I'm starting to see more and more mixed reviews of this one. Funny how that works the longer a book has been out. ;) I bought it for my stepmom for Christmas and never heard how she liked it. She's usually pretty good about telling me what she thinks (incidentally I also gave her Major Pettigrew's Last Stand which she called "nice") so I'm guessing this wasn't a homerun for her, too. Bummer!

    I don't know how a whole lot about this book but it's the first I heard that Jim Broadbent narrates. That actually seems to give me more perspective on the book than anything else. He has such a distinctive voice!

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    1. I wonder what your stepmom thought of the books. I gave them to my mom, as well and she gave both 4/5 stars on Goodreads.

      Jim Broadbent was perfect for this audio! Of course, I had to google him. He's a wonderful actor!

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  9. I'm beginning to have that same impression of audio books. I keep picking up literary fiction on audio but I do feel that it lacks something, no matter how well done the narration.

    Sorry to hear you weren't as bowled over by this one as so many have been My book club is reading it in June. For some reason it's one that hasn't really called out to me. Perhaps that will help, along with your review, to keep me from being disappointed.

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    1. It's funny, though, Lisa. I've listened to some fabulous books on audio that were very literary. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is one that I absolutely loved. The Night Circus, Cutting for Stone, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle were also amazing on audio. I guess like anything else, it's a crap shoot! Hope you enjoy it and have a good discussion with your book club.

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  10. I've been interested in this one, but have always hesitated for some reason. Interesting thoughts on the different effects of audio and print.

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    1. I would recommend reading it rather than listening to the audio. The reader is good, but I think it's one that's better read. I've recently started and stopped a few new audio books just for this reason. I hate to miss out on the beautiful writing because I'm distracted by traffic or a project at work.

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