Fiction Addiction

Book news and reviews with Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Fiction Addiction: Recommended Read - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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The premise, in 25 words or less: A walk to the post box turns into a 600 mile pilgrimage, as Harold tries to save a life and resolve issues from his past.

Author's credentials: Although this is Rachel Joyce's first novel, she has written over 20 radio plays for BBC Radio 4 as well as adaptations for radio and television.

The guts of the book: Harold Fry and his wife Maureen have lived in the same house on the south coast of Devon for the last 45 years. Since he retired, days go by in which nothing changes. Maureen takes care of most things, keeping their only son's room spotlessly clean, just in case he returns. Then Harold receives a letter from his former colleague Queenie, who is dying of cancer in Berwick-on-Tweed, in the far north of England. He sets out to post her a reply but keeps on going, believing that if he can only reach Queenie on foot, somehow she will survive and he will right a wrong committed 20 years before. Along the way he's plagued by fears of his inadequacy as a father and joined by nutters and narcissists who co-opt his walk for their own purposes.

Meanwhile Harold's sudden and out-of-character disappearance forces Maureen to examine the cracks in their relationship.

Why you should read it: A delightful story of faith, hope and redemption. Harold encounters human nature in all its guises, becomes a minor celebrity, learns to manage with few possessions and takes pleasure in the smallest of things. It's funny and touching, a celebration of life and a reminder that it's never too late to change.

But nothing's perfect right? It's a little sentimental and predictable in parts. This is no racy page turner but a gentle, charming story of the power of the human spirit.

The Buzz: Reviewers have praised the book's original take on the age-old journey device, and Joyce's use of simple language to powerful emotional effect.
Trivia: The book began life as a radio play when Joyce's father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Details: Published by Random House, RRP $36.99.

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