Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fly

A Walk Down Memory Lane,
The Routes of Our Pain
By Neely Kennedy

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel JoyceIn May’s best-selling Ladies' Home Journal Book Club selection, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, author Rachel Joyce tells the story of one man’s unlikely decision to walk the length of England from Kingsbridge to Berwick upon Tweed. Harold Fry’s spontaneous pilgrimage begins as a means to save an old friend after receiving a letter that she is in hospice dying of cancer.  It is a surprisingly touching journey that builds on Harold’s seemingly stodgy existence as a retiree, and gathers strength as the story unleashes into an emotional tidal wave ending.  Harold’s journey is as much about wrestling buried inner demons, and atoning for the past, as it is about reaching out to those around us.  In his effort to save Queenie, Harold saves himself.

Below are examples of how Harold’s emotional landscape vacillates with the peaks and valleys of his route to Berwick; from high hopes and certainty in his ability to rescue Queenie, to the depths of self-doubt and despair, and finally to a moment of forgiveness and redemption.

“Disease, the clergy and the scientists agree, is caused by weak living. Rich foods, bad air, rotten earth, lazy hygiene, liquor, drugs, vice, and sex. The sick, therefore, are generally supposed something lower than angelic and thus not to be directly associated with by virtuous charitable workers.”

“As time passed and he found his rhythm, he began to feel more certain. England opened up beneath his feet, and the feeling of freedom, of pushing into the unknown, was so exhilarating he had to smile. He was in the world by himself and nothing could get in the way or ask him to mow the lawn.”

“Harold was so tired he could barely lift his feet, and yet he felt such hope, he was giddy with it. If he kept looking at things that were bigger than himself, he knew he would make it to Berwick.”

“I admit I am wearing the wrong clothes. And I also admit I have not the training, or the physique, for my walk. I can’t explain why I think I can get there, when all the odds are against it. But I do. Even when a big part of me is saying I should give up, I can’t. Even when I don’t want to keep going, I still do.”

“In walking, he freed the past that he had spent twenty years seeking to avoid, and now it chattered and played through his head with a wild energy that was its own.”

“For a while it there was only the silence that carried her words. It struck Harold afresh how life could change in an instant. You could be doing something so everyday—walking your partner’s dog, putting on your shoes—and not knowing that everything you wanted you were about to lose.”

“You got up, and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don’t even know you can get there isn’t a small miracle; then I don’t know what is.”

Book Club Bonus:  Along Harold’s journey he picks up souvenirs to send to his wife Maureen and to Queenie and to send as a thank you gifts to people he’s met along the way. Ask your group to come to your book club discussion with a souvenir from a trip they’ve taken, or a souvenir they’ve received from someone else. Does the souvenir symbolize anything beyond the place from which it came?


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