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May 9, 2013 / ljbradburn-Smith

Old Age Pioneer


I was warned. ‘It will make you sad’, my mum said and as usual she was right. I’m beginning to think she has been telling the truth, for all these years, and she really does know everything 😉

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, sees OAP, Harold, set off on an unplanned journey to visit a sick friend, Queenie, who he hadn’t seen, in over 20 years, before she contacted him to tell him she was dying. What starts as a stroll, to the post box, with what Harold feels is an unsubstantial reply, to such a letter, becomes an epic journey of willpower, friendship and love. As Harold walks he contemplates his life and his relationships, particularly the ones with his estranged son and with his wife, which, over years of marriage, has grown stale and unforgiving.

As I was reading, I started thinking about how sad it is to see couples that have drifted apart, over time, but still carry on existing together out of habit, seemingly more interested in moaning about the washing up than taking the time to cuddle. Call me idealistic, but my point is that surely it is important to at least try not to forget how to love and to realise that it may take effort and sometimes sacrifice but that the rewards are more than worth it. I always say to Ben that I hope we still show that we love each other, in the future, as much as we do now, because I know all too well how easy it is to become complacent and stop appreciating what you have.

Harold’s physical journey, across the country, is massively symbolic of his life journey. Joyce represents the highs of his life through Harold’s improved fitness, thirst for knowledge and feeling of freedom and the lows through his injuries and the times he struggles to carry on. As he walks, Harold travels through his memories, of his life so far, and although it is often painful he knows that he must both keep walking and keep remembering.

Over the course of his journey Harold meets many people who share their stories and at times their homes with him. With humour, sensitivity and sometimes shocking honesty, Joyce explores many life issues that people come to face, and seems to be reminding us that although our painful experiences can leave us feeling isolated, in a strange way they are also what connects us to others. The people he meets and the lives he glimpses help Harold to realise that everyone has their problems, and that he isn’t alone in his feeling of not being good enough, but also that if given the chance to talk most people just need someone who will listen.

Harold’s journey becomes a cleansing experience in which he gets back to basics, stripping away everything until there is just him and his walk from his past in to his future. My favourite quote, from this novel, “life was very different when you walked through it”, sums up this book for me perfectly as it is about taking the time to think about what is important to you and realising that it is never too late, to fight for love, for friendship and for life itself.

Joyce writes with such a beautiful simplicity that really spoke to me, as a reader. I loved that her hero was a normal man, without walking equipment, as it goes to show that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things if they put their mind to it and that true strength comes from the mind (and not the weights at the gym – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

Even though I wished, at times, that Harold would buy proper walking boots, to save his feet, I loved that he refused to give up his yachting shoes (I can definitely sympathise here as I am the master of impractical footwear choices), that he started his journey in, as they symbolise who he is. It is all very well trying to put yourself in the shoes of others but it is only your own shoes that you can dance in.

This is an amazing story of human spirit and a testament to how a positive thought/act can have far greater effects than you can imagine. So even though it made me sad, it also made me appreciate my life and the people in it even more than I already do!



Leave a Comment
  1. wakeupyourluck / May 10 2013 9:41 pm

    I’m so happy to see someone review this book. It’s the one I always give as a recommendation when asked. Beautiful!

    • ljbradburn / May 11 2013 9:32 am

      Thanks 🙂 It is a wonderful book isn’t it! It really made an impact on me x

  2. Katie / May 15 2013 1:12 pm

    I love how sensitively you explored and reviewed this book. It sounds like reading it was a journey for you too, I want to read this now!

    • ljbradburn / May 15 2013 5:48 pm

      Thanks Katie, I’m glad you enjoyed my review, it’s very sweet of you to say. I’m even more glad that I have inspired you to read it, my job is done hehe! 😉 x

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