The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Title: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Author: Rachel Joyce
Genre: Fiction

Rating: 1 out of 5

Goodreads | Powell’s


The thing about this book is that I really did not like it. It was really disappointing because there was so much here in terms of topics to be mined. But everything was treated very superficially and it didn’t feel like a thoughtful, serious, or compassionate look into anything at all.


I don’t even know where to start. So I’m going to start with the first notes I took at the beginning…
– “Men had no idea what it was like to be a mother. The ache of loving a child, even when he had moved on.” Mm. Gender essentializing. Love it (don’t love it).
– “Rex was a short man with tidy feet at the bottom, a small head at the top and a very round body in the middle, causing Harold to fear sometimes that if he fell there would be no stopping him. He would roll down the hill like a barrel.” OMG that’s so funny! Get it? Because fat people are jokes!! Hahahahilarious… (not hilarious)
– “Harold tried to catch her eye but she wouldn’t. She had returned to being dull and empty again, as if their conversation about her aunt had never happened.” Yes. This woman obviously only has value if she is having a conversation with Harold, about Harold’s interests, when it’s convenient for Harold. If she is doing her job, she is no longer the same person who has an aunt or feelings. She is an empty shell. I love how this part of the book reduced a human being to a non-entity simply for doing the job she is paid to do and probably does not want to lose! (Actually… I didn’t…)


Okay, so…I note lots of little things like that in books and it doesn’t always affect my enjoyment, at least not to a one-star rating level. But the writing style was also definitely not to my taste. It’s pretty bland stuff. It’s very ham-fisted. It seems to be trying to rub the readers’ face in OMG I’m so profound (“The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had done so for a long time.”) OMG I’m quirky too!! (“He met a tax inspector who was a Druid and had not worn a pair of shoes for ten years. He talked […] with a priest who confessed to tweeting during mass, as well as several people in training for a marathon, and an Italian man with a singing parrot. He spent an afternoon with a white witch from Glastonbury…” blahblahblah) OMG so profound again amirite? (“In order to succeed he must remain true to the feeling that had inspired him in the first place. It didn’t matter that other people would do it in a different way; in fact this was inevitable”) Wait…quirkyyyy!! (“The man explained he wished to accompany them and that in order to gather further public support for Queenie, he would like to do it in a gorilla suit”)


The thing about cliche is that sometimes I totally love it–you just have to package it right. This one wasn’t packaged right for me.


Perhaps the worst thing about it was–spoiler alert!–the way it handled Queenie. She’s not a character or a person in her own right, not really. She’s just a device to make Harold’s life better, to save Harold. Kind of a twist on the manic pixie dream girl–the plain friendly cancer woman… I’m having a hard time thinking up a snappy label. But after she takes the fall for Harold and curbs his alcoholism and very likely saves him from total self-destruction, she has served her purpose and disappears. After Harold treks to her, his thoughts are basically “I’m uncomfortable, how soon can I leave?” The actual quote from the book is “He wondered how much longer he was going to have to go through this.” I wanted to scream ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? A person you consider a friend is lying there suffering from cancer and you’re just like “o poor me, i hav 2 b in th same room 4 a few minz”??? Granted he did finally sit down on the bed next to her for a few minutes until she fell asleep. Still though, I’m sure he bolted the first chance he got. I got the distinct impression that she was just a prop to make Harold ~grow~


Anyway, to sum up, I really didn’t like this book. And now that I am doing the review every time I open a page I find something else that makes my head scream “STAAAAHHHPP.” I could probably write a thesis on the things I found problematic about it. I haven’t even touched on the boundaries issue or the cardboard characters who crop up and go away and really serve no purpose except to take up more pages longer and represent some ~deeper message~ (~~deep~~)


In conclusion: tedious, ham-fisted, cliche, something creepy about the way it treats people. On the plus side: maybe a good book club book. It certainly got me going here… ;D


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