Harold Fry is a retired sales rep, and a worn down husband. Up to the time he retires he was a passive observer of his own life, but that changes as we walk with him.
His passive response to his past has much to do with his wife, his son, and events at work. He receives a letter and learns that his friend from work twenty years ago, Queenie Hennessy, has cancer. It has been years since he had any contact, but he decides to go see her. It requires him to walk 627 miles and takes 87 days.
The journey and the experiences frees him from his past but it also seems to offer some freedom to the reader. We experience the walk ourselves and as a lifetime of problems seem to slip away for Harold and perhaps some do for us?
When I first read this book I wondered if the plot was a very simplified version of James Joyce's book, Ulysses. That book had two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, develop a very complicated story as they spent the day( 1 day) and walked around the block.
Harold's story was not nearly as complicated but it was also a life being examined by the ordinary events of a walk.
Three questions occur to me about Harold's Pilgrimage.
Does making this trip make sense?
Could things really change because of the trip?
Do the things that happened make sense?
The authors skill in writing about Harold seems to overcome the fact that the trip does not seem to make a lot of sense. You do seem to embrace the idea that things could have really been resolved by the trip and that those events do make sense. Also you do project some things into your own life.
A question of interest would be to learn "Why" Rachel Joyce wrote this book about Harold Fry? What did she want to do? Did she want the reader to leave wondering about Queenie Hennessy enough to buy her next book? Maybe? Did she want to make a statement about dull lives? Look at the "What Matters" tab on this blog for more on motives.
The book is well worth reading even if your not sure why it was written?
(Tackle Ulysses if you like, but it may take several re readings and I am still not sure what the message was? Not sure James Joyce had a clear answer to that question either)