Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Walk up England.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. - Rachel Joyce. - Doubleday
Harold Fry is recently retired. He and his wife Maureen live in the same house they had purchased as a young married couple. Neither of them is happy. Both of them are tormented by their memories and experiences. They reside together, but they do not live together. Although the book contains early hints of the main reason for their unhappiness, it is several chapters in before we realise fully that their only son, David, to whom Maureen is always talking, is dead. He had committed suicide.

The book commences with Harold receiving a note from Queenie Hennessy, an old workmate, telling him that she is in a hospice in Berwick-Upon-Tweed and that she is dying. Prompted by the words of a girl assistant in a garage he decides that he will walk the 627 miles to Queenie. He will give her a reason to cling to life.

There are certainly allegorical aspects to this novel. The quotation from, "The Pilgrim's Progress," immediately before the first chapter and the very title of the book are highly suggestive of how the author wants us to interpret her work. Harold's pilgrimage allows him to confront his son's death and the shrivelled relationship with his wife. It is also what prompts Maureen to be jolted out of her mourning and appreciate her husband's good qualities and her own faults.

At times the writing is rather sentimental and, although the book ends with Harold and Maureen laughing together I wouldn't say that it is a happy or inspiring read. Being told of someone else's regrets, disappointments, failures and despair, even if that someone is fictional, does little to raise ones spirits.

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