I know that many people enjoyed reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. The reason? I think that this novel is manipulative, pulling out all the stops to make you feel for its characters. What it didn’t do is make them convincing.
Harold Fry is retired, but since his retirement he’s done virtually nothing. He and his wife are estranged over a series of misunderstandings followed by a tragedy. He is an ineffective person who blames himself for lack of action at important times during his life.
One morning Harold receives a letter from a former coworker, Queenie Hennessy. Harold feels guilty about Queenie because he wronged her in some way, but we don’t find out why for some time. Queenie tells him she is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, dying of cancer.
Harold, who is not good at self-expression, writes her a stiff letter and sets off to the post office to mail it. But he feels reluctant to return home and makes an excuse to walk to the next post office. Soon, Harold finds himself walking from Kingsbridge in far southern England to Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish border.
This novel is about Harold’s self-redemption through the accomplishment of a difficult goal. It is a feel-good novel that uses all kinds of tricks, including a dead child, to make us feel sorry for Harold and sympathetic to his wife Maureen. But I did not find Harold’s journey very involving, and all along I felt manipulated, probably because, as I said before, the characters in the novel don’t seem to be real. They are instead types. This novel just doesn’t have much depth. It seems to be catering to the audience for “quirky,” saccharine, feel-good stories, which I am not a part of, and I didn’t find it very interesting.