Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Review #2)

Rating: 4
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
A Novel
by Rachel Joyce

2012 / 336 Pages

Some books one picks up just hit a nerve, touch off a series of memories that have been repressed.  They can remind you of a person, place or thing with such a choke hold that you can’t put them down for  fear of forgetting about the experience that book has opened back up to you.  When you do put the book down you reminisce about the person,  place or thing before getting up to continue about your day.  The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht was one of these books for me and now Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is another.

Have you ever woken up one morning and realized you have wasted X number of years of your life?  Have you ever realized that you have allowed a person, place or thing use and manipulate you to the point that you no longer know who you are and what you want out of life?  Have you ever woken up to realize how short life is and you only have the opportunity to live life once?


Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The_Unlikely_Pilgrimage_Of_Harold_FryRating: 3
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
A Novel by Rachel Joyce
2012 / 336 Pages

The Setup: Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit of youth and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him–allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise–and utterly irresistible–storyteller. (From the hardcover edition)


Book Review: 2011 Short Listed: Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues

Half_Blood_BluesRating: 5
Half Blood Blues
A Novel by Esi Edugyan
2011 (2012 US) / 304 Pages

The Setup: Paris, 1940.  A brilliant jazz musician, Hiero, is arrested by the Nazis and never heard from again.  He is twenty years old.  He is a German citizen.  And he is black.

Fifty years later, his friend and fellow musician, Sid, must relive that unforgettable time, revealing the friendships, love affairs and treacheries that sealed Hiero’s fate.  From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of  Paris – where the legendary Louis Armstrong makes an appearance – Sid, with his distinctive and rhythmic German-American slang, leads the reader through a fascinating world alive with passion, music and the spirit of resistance.

Half-Blood Blues, the second novel by an exceptionally talented young writer, is an entrancing, electric story about jazz, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art. (from the hardcover edition)