Monday, June 30, 2014

A Walk with Harold Fry

I go through spells of not being able to settle my mind to read or to settle on a choice of books. Now is one of those times when intriguing titles are popping up everywhere. Also must soon start on the book for September book club because it is huge: Goldfinch by Donna Tart. I had avoided The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce because it looked good but so many others were lined up in my reading queue. But when I repeatedly came across references to this book, I skipped ahead and pulled it up on my Kindle.

I was not disappointed. This is a book with an English setting and is a story of a man’s walk across England to reach a friend dying of cancer. Due to a short tale told by a young girl, Harold Fry thinks if he walks the length of England to reach his friend, he can save her from death. He writes, her tells her he is on the way, and then he begins the walk without proper equipment and totally out of shape himself. The book begins with the simple and sparse words of the ordinary; the tone reminded me of a fairy tale with detailing by a narrator.

As we see Harold’s ordinary life, we see some of our own. Then the prose ratchets up and draws us into to see his more complicated prior life. The sentences are still unpretentious but impart interesting details that track the gradual transformation of Harold Fry and indirectly his wife Maureen. The last third of the book has some rough areas I would have edited out, some chapters bordering on proselytizing instead of showing in the narrative. Many reviewers compare Harold Fry to a Christ figure, and indeed, in many places readers are reminded of Biblical parables.

For me the scenes with Harold’s sick friend Queenie were hard to read, and I admit to not studying those paragraphs. Joyce does a wonderful job of capturing the ravages of Queenie’s cancer. However since in February we saw a friend to the very end through his own battle with liver disease (which tortured me further by being reminiscent of my Dad’s fight with Mesothelioma), followed by a cousin’s death on the West Coast from pancreatic cancer, trailed by the loss of a very special 98 year old lady who was my friend for 40 years, and then faced the beginning death throes of a 30 year marriage of a beloved family member, I admit to reading across this part of the story lightly.

I found the wife Maureen just as interesting a character as Harold. While she comes across as a bit of a shrew when we first meet her, her shortcomings could be our own.
During Harold’s walk, Maureen stays at home but she is not idle. She revamps her own outlook on life, and we see  her character re-finding the essence of her original self in some agonizing self-discovery. Both these characters are in the retirement stages of life which proves to be no easy feat. Society has classes for newly pregnant women on babies and birthing, classes on how to parent, classes on how to handle nutrition for health, how to live with alcoholism, and even how to plan money for retirement. Someone ought to design a class for how to stay vital and how to live daily with a loved one during retirement!

However, with no real spoiler alert, this books ends with a special kind of “they all lived happily ever after”.  It is a good read, probes some heavy thoughts, and dares us to look at our own life to question are we living it fully. The author has another book due out sometime this year. I will be glad to give it a read as well.


Terra said...

I read this book and your review brings out its good points. I agree with your review and greatly recommend it. When Fry begins his journey it does not seem possible he can succeed, with no planning at all.
He meets some colorful characters along the way.

Elephant's Child said...

I loved this book - and agree with you on the editing front.
And I will be interested (very) to hear what you think of Goldfinch. I thought it needed a lot more editing than it received. And feel a bit out of step because I didn't love it. It was interesting, but I believe was released too soon. More and tighter editing required.

Susan said...

Hi Bookie...Glad you are reading things you enjoy.

I joined a book club, too, and love the interaction with others who share my love of the written word.
Susan p.s. Thanks for your visits.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

This sounds a little more profound than I'm interested in right now. I'm a voracious reader, but light and entertaining is on my list to offset the crazy-busy I'm engulfed in. I'll put it on my list, though, for a later date. The premise sounds quite interesting.

Susan said...

p.s. on Wednesday. Hello Dear Bookie. If you have a chance, stop by my post today. It's on Vickie, the new blogger and memoir writer. Thanks. Susan

Sioux said...

Claudia--I'm glad you found a book you've enjoyed so much. I'm reading a Ray Bradbury novel and am in love with it.

Lynn said...

I just finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter and loved it. I'll put yours on my list... ha, like I don't have enough. But I always like recommendations best. Sounds like you had a cool evening for the ballgame (that was lucky) as I think the last time I was at a game, I went away soaked from sweat. Ugh. And your other book recommendation (A Fine Romance) sounds good too!

Marylin Warner said...

Good review of UNLIKELY, Claudia. I agree with you, and without spoiling the ending, I also felt it left the readers with a challenge to reconsider some things.

There are so many books that make the best seller list but that don't, in my opinion, deserve that following. Sometimes the high sales are due to the publishers' promotions and "hype" instead of the books themselves, so I appreciate the recommendations of friends.

BECKY said...

I'm with Lisa, it sounds a bit too "profound" for me right now. I'm having a tough time finding books I can "get into." It's been like this for a long time. I think my mind is just going in too many directions and I find it hard to really concentrate on what I'm reading. Thanks for the great review!