I have just finished reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and what a happy coincidence ! I couldn’t think of a better book to start my blog with. It is the best kind of quest novel and the deceptive gentleness of the narrative reminded me somewhat of To Kill a Mockingbird. The book starts with a quote from The Pilgrim’s Progress:
Who would true valour see, / Let him come hither; / One here will constant be / Come wind, come weather. / There’s no discouragement / Shall make him once relent / His first avowed intent / To be a pilgrim.
I am admittedly quite tuned into the world of Puritanism at the moment (more on that in a future post), but these words immediately made my heart swell as it sounds so noble. Later, as I read the book, I realised that these words not only acted as a pointer to the allegorical nature of Harold’s journey – Joyce has borrowed from The Pilgrim’s Progress – but also summed up the constancy and honour of Harold. Harold is a very ordinary man who has just retired. One day, he gets a letter telling him that an old friend has cancer. He writes a mundane reply and sets out to the post box. He doesn’t stop at that post box however, or the next one, but keeps walking and comes to believe that by walking to his old friend, he will keep her alive. On this journey he meets many characters and learns many things, but the way he explores his memories, mistakes and regrets are the most beautiful bits of the book in my opinion. I guessed the twist to the book relatively early on, but it in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the book. In fact, because I knew what Harold had not yet told me reflected some of his silence with Maureen, his wife, nicely I found. The novel deals with grief particularly well and Rachel Joyce has a very simple, crisp writing style that I really admire. One passage in particular will stay with me from this book, as well as Harold himself:
‘Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that was the dilemma of being human.’