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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce: January 2013 book of the month

THE UNLIKELY PILGRAMAGE OF HAROLD FRY book jacket"It's about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary things, in ordinary ways," explains Rachel Joyce in this filmed interview about her Booker-longlisted debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Begun as a radio play and inspired by her father, the story begins with Harold, a retired and unhappily married pensioner living in Devon, receiving a letter from an old friend in Berwick Upon Tweed, telling him she has cancer.

He writes a reply but, on his way to the postbox, decides that this is not enough. He must walk to Berwick in person, there and then. Only this, he knows, will keep her alive. And so begins a remarkable journey through the roads, cafés, tourist centres, towns and lanes of Britain: "One foot in front of the other. The simplicity of it was joyful. If he kept going forward, he would arrive."

Along the way, a cast of diverse characters support, encourage and empathise with him, eventually turning into a cult following. As he walk, Harold's own memories begin to bubble up, and resolve the regret and sadness that have blighted his marriage and his relationship with David, the son who dramatically left home. Meanwhile, at home, his wife Maureen puzzles over her husband's odyssey, and slowly begins to see how her long-held beliefs might not be what they seemed.

An exploration of grief and regret, as well as a celebration of love, faith and hope, this is an exceptionally moving book. It has a gentle, understated yet devastating power. Cleverly plotted, with a huge twist (tread carefully to avoid doing spoilers on the thread), the writing is also charming and funny, with touches of Sue Townsend or Alan Bennett. A beautiful, uplifting, lump-in-the-throat read. 

Book club discussion: Tues 29 January, 9-10pm

We are thrilled that Rachel will be answering questions about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and her writing career in general on Tuesday 29 January, 9-10pm. Please feel free to discuss the book until then (without giving the plot away, please), and then come and join in the author chat on Tues 29. See you there.  

Rachel JoyceAbout Rachel Joyce

Rachel Joyce lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and four children. She has written over 20 original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4, and major adaptations for the Classic Series and Woman's Hour, as well as TV period drama for BBC2. In 2007, she won the Tinniswood Award for Best Radio Play. Harold Fry is her first novel and was longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. She is working on her second.

You can find interviews, extracts and lots more insider info on Rachel's excellent website.

Transworld has 50 copies of the novel to give to Mumsnetters. To claim one, please fill in your details below. We'll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can get your hardback now, paperback (available to pre-order and published 3 January) or Kindle version.


Last updated: over 3 years ago