I listened to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce in March and it was such a joy, such an uplifting story and so beautifully read by Jim Broadbent, who plays Harold in the new film.
I love a book about a long walk and a character going on a physical journey as well as an emotional one, so the premise of Harold setting off from south Devon to walk to Berwick-upon-Tweed was an immediately pleasing one for me. Harold begins his walk when he finds out that an old colleague is dying of cancer. He leaves the house to post a letter to her at her hospice and just keeps walking, in his completely unsuitable yachting shoes.
Day-by-day he leaves his life slowly behind. His is a sad, lonely existence. He is emotionally distant from his wife and missing his son and he reflects on his childhood and life as a parent and a husband as he walks, meeting an eclectic cast of characters along the way. Some of them inspire Harold and spur him on, others knock him off his course and purpose, not least the ragtag group of hangers-on in need of their own emotional journey who join him when his walk becomes famous. Harold’s transformation sees him sink to the depths of despair, and face his darkest hours before the dawn.
Meanwhile, Harold’s wife Maureen is at home in Devon going on her own emotional journey with the help of her neighbour Rex. Her realisations mean perhaps it is not too late for her and Harold. Will two people so far apart both be brave enough to deal with the difficult realities of their feelings and behaviour to end up closer together? You’ll just have to read to find out.