But I would walk 500 miles…

Joyce_Harold-FryI really can’t say enough how much I enjoy a well done audio book. I feel like I get to reclaim time that would otherwise be spent on mindless tasks. Okay, driving is not mindless, but my routine commute requires that I pay attention, not navigate each turn. And I’m a nicer driver when I’m listening to a book instead of repetitive tire commercials and wrecking ball lyrics. I can listen while I make dinner or do the dishes or walk the dog… all things you really can’t do while reading a book (at least not without risk or great bodily harm)!

This week’s book is another example of a book I couldn’t put down (turn off?).

Book # 6- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Harold Fry is newly retired from his job at a brewery. His days are quiet and stretching out in front of him. He seems to be in the way of his wife, Maureen, around the house and the most exciting thing he does is fetch the mail; until he receives a letter from a former co-worker Queenie. She has terminal cancer and she is writing to say goodbye. Harold immediately writes a reply and steps out of the door to send it.  But once he reaches the mailbox, Harold is so lost in his memories of this kindhearted woman that he  decides to walk to the next mailbox. When he gets into town he feels that his letter is not really adequate sentiment. Instead, he decides to continue on walking. He calls the hospice center with a message for Queenie that she must hang on, she must keep living until he can walk the 500+ miles to see her.

Harold calls Maureen from a pay phone and relays his plan. She is hurt and confused, and over the course of 500 miles they both ponder the last 20 years of their marriage and wonder what happened to draw them apart. Harold takes the clothes on his back and the yachting shoes on his feet and gives hope to an old friend who once payed him extreme kindness. And as Harold finds his way north, he and Maureen find a way to understand each other once again.  The looming question is can Queenie hang on until Harold finishes his walk so that he can repay her kindness from 20 years ago?

My Impressions: Harold and Maureen first strike me as a quiet married couple so used to each other that they sit at the breakfast table and anticipate each others’ movements without speaking. They have their rhythm that works best because it’s never disrupted. So when Harold attempts this great departure from the norm, they are both a little bit rocked. Harold first thinks himself noble, then he becomes uncertain, then he has a moment of great clarity about how he should go about his walking. His journey is as much about self discovery  and dissecting the past than it is about giving Queenie hope for a little more time. He is genuinely just trying to do what he thinks is the right thing for every person in his life and he can’t seem to sort out what to do when that causes conflict. You want to feel badly for him fumbling through, but you also keep cheering him on because he is able to press on and make people believe in him!

The supporting characters in the story each have something to add to Harold’s walk. Every traveler, pilgrim, nurse and neighbor bring something to the story and gave Harold something to help him on his way. When I first started the book, I thought, how will you make 300 pages about walking to a dying woman interesting, but the emotions of the characters are so beautifully portrayed with out a lot of indulgent over-writing. Without spoiling the story, the end is very sweet and redeeming.  I truly loved this book.

As an audio performance, this one was very well done. The narrator altered his voice only slightly to distinguish between characters so there was no distraction and his unaffected tone for Harold was just perfect!

Why you should read it: The primary theme of this book is hope. And it delivers on many levels. It’s an emotional and touching story that is slightly implausible on the large scale but extremely relatable in the smaller encounters. The story is suspenseful, and delivers great plot twists to keep you interested and amazed. Go read this book! Or listen to it… I recommend either!

Book #6 in the bag!

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”  ― Mason Cooley

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