O! what Man will do fore a Rime!

Self-proclaimed bibliophile, culture nut and nerdfighter. English lit. and linguistics geek. Future career in publishing.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

He could forgive his parents for not wanting him. For not showing him how to love, or even giving him the vocabulary. He could forgive their parents, and their parents before that.

All Harold wanted was his child.

- p. 283



Warning: There are some words in this review that might spoil a part of Forrest Gump for you if you haven't seen it. Obviously, you should've seen the film by now though because it's a masterpiece.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is about a recently retired man named Harold Fry who decides to walk from his home in Kingsbridge, Devon, to a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, in order to save an old friend from cancer.


Harold is a character who reminds me of the male baby boomer stereotype: not in touch with his feelings, doesn't know how to show his love, etc. I'm sick of this stereotype being applied to older male characters, only to have them grow and realize their feelings all along. It's boring. I know that older male characters don't always fit into this stereotype, but because of its existence it feels like they're everywhere.


The writing itself is only mediocre. I get that this is Joyce's first novel and she will improve by her second book (hopefully), but that doesn't mean I have to like the overt messages she's sending. Subtlety is an author's best friend. I think I would've liked this book better if the themes weren't so in-your-face and explicitly stated. The tone is very quaint and felt homely, which is a tone that I favour. However, I wasn't a particular fan of the style. I think that if you're following a character for a chapter, you shouldn't put an aside about another character in, especially when they haven't been set up as a character from whom we get a point of view. I also wasn't fond of the overuse of commas since most of the time they weren't needed in those places. There's also the use of semi-colons and periods in the novel that were used in a way that I didn't like. (I'm sorry, I appreciate a semi-colon's proper use; call me a prescriptivist then.)


I do like the idea of believing in something makes you stronger, and I appreciated that that thing wasn't religion/religious faith. Despite Joyce not letting me figure it out, it was still a nice enough message that I didn't mind as much.


I also like that Harold was a modern pilgrim, because you don't see many stories about that anymore. The only problem was that it felt very much like the part in Forrest Gump where he starts running for no reason and people just join along with him. In fact, it felt almost exactly like that when other people start joining Harold's march north. (And I have an outside opinion: when I told my older sister the synopsis, she flat-out said, "Oh, like Forrest Gump?")


This novel was simply okay to me, but I feel like it's at least a bit more than 2 stars but not enough for 2.5 stars. I feel like I should have liked it more, but the writing was a serious hindrance. Depending on the improvement in writing quality, I'm still interested in picking up Joyce's next novel.


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