Day 826: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Cover for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryI 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.

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13 thoughts on “Day 826: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

  1. Cecilia December 29, 2015 / 4:26 pm

    Interesting to get your take on it, Kay. I have it because of many of the rave reviews but haven’t read it.

    • whatmeread December 29, 2015 / 7:03 pm

      Maybe you’ll like it better than I did.

  2. nicolaliteraryramblings December 30, 2015 / 12:44 am

    Hi, I readily swallowed the whole thing hook, line and sinker! It’s definitely one of those reads where you either take to the quirky, slightly fable-like style – or you don’t. Confess I sank back in the comfy armchair and let myself be transported, but can see how you found it frustrating and two-dimensional. I did love it though….

    • whatmeread December 30, 2015 / 5:11 pm

      It just wasn’t my thing, I guess.

  3. Naomi December 30, 2015 / 6:49 pm

    I also liked this one, but from the way you describe it, I can see it going either way. I think I wanted to love it, so I did. But, I’m also a sucker for books about walking or hiking because I’ve always thought it would be fun to to do long-distance walking (like, across the country or around the province). Whether or not I actually do it myself someday remains to be seen, but for now I love reading about other people doing it.

    • whatmeread December 31, 2015 / 8:09 am

      That shows how people can like a book for all kinds of reasons.

      • Naomi December 31, 2015 / 8:29 am


  4. Geoff W January 5, 2016 / 9:48 am

    Interesting, I’ve got this one on my Kindle and have had it for some time. I wanted to let the buzz die down so maybe I’ll read it this year. Good to hear that not everyone loved it though.

    • whatmeread January 5, 2016 / 9:49 am

      Maybe the people who loved it are buzzing more than the people who didn’t.

  5. jasontravers4411 January 5, 2016 / 2:59 pm

    Thought it was just me that didn’t like it. i found it a bit “Forrest Gump” sorry did not like that either. Liked your review, thanks for sharing.

    • whatmeread January 5, 2016 / 3:01 pm

      I don’t think we’re the only ones. When I posted this, someone on my Facebook page said “I agree with you completely.”

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