3-Star Reviews, Books & Reviews

‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,’ by Rachel Joyce: Book Review

Star rating: ★★★✰✰

A story about regrets, and the great lengths people can go to make them right.



Harold Fry is recently retired. He lives in a small English town with his wife, Maureen, and most of his days go pretty much the same as every other day.

Except for one morning when he receives a letter from an old friend, Queenie. She explains that she has cancer and is in a hospice. Harold decides to write back and scribbles out a letter that he wants to post immediately.

But once he gets to the post box, the letter doesn’t seem enough. He decides that he has to do more, so he starts walking.

At first, he just wants to walk to the next post box. But once he gets there, he still keeps walking. As long as he keeps walking, Queenie won’t die. That’s what he tells himself.

And so the pilgrimage of Harold Fry begins. Along the way, he meets a cast of characters, most are helpful, some are not. But while he walks, he also reminisces about his life, the mistakes he’s made and the regrets he has. And back at home, Maureen starts to miss Harold for the first time in a long while.

As much as the book states that it’s unsentimental, this is most definitely a sentimental story.

Normally, I have to say, that would put me off a bit. I’m not big into feelings and gushy stuff. So I was a bit wary of reading this because I was worried it would get all mushy and I’d have to vomit.

But while there is a sentimentality to this book, it doesn’t hit you in the face and cause copious amounts of eye-rolling like I was expecting it to. It’s a pleasant sentimentality that leaves you feeling fuzzy, but not too much so.

I have to admit that I struggled to know what rating to give Harold Fry.

I hovered between giving it two or three stars because I wasn’t sure how much I actually enjoyed reading it despite the pleasant fuzziness of the ending. It’s a slow burner of a story, and I found myself feeling bored with it at a couple of points.

As a fan of thrillers and mysteries, I like a book that keeps me on my toes, and this one certainly didn’t. There’s a bit of a question around Harold and Queenie’s past, but nothing worth staying up reading until 3 am for.

But in saying that, sometimes it’s nice to have a book that doesn’t have your heart racing or have you reading well past your bedtime (sleep is important, people). While it wasn’t difficult to put it down after finishing a chapter, I never thought about putting it down altogether.

I liked the characters, and I wanted to see them happy, they deserved it. I wanted to know if Harold would make it to Berwick Upon Tweed to see Queenie, and I hoped he would. So for the likeable characters and the hope it gave me, I gave it three stars.

This is ultimately a book about loss, regret and retrospection …

… which I think is something everyone can relate to. We all have moments in our lives that we regret, some of which may have lead to the loss that Harold (and Maureen) are feeling throughout the story.

Harold uses the time he has while walking to think back on his life and his regrets and eventually learns some truths, which is, again, something we can all associate with. We’ve all had those moments of epiphany where something in our past has finally clicked, or we’ve realised what we learned from a mistake.

Harold Fry is definitely worth a read for those looking for something with a slower pace and an ending that will make you feel like maybe the world isn’t such a crappy place after all.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is available from Random House and Amazon.

(note: this is an affiliate link, and therefore I may receive a fee from any purchase you make using this link, at no extra cost to you.)

If you liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, you might also like:

The Hoarder, by Jess Kidd, or
All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

2 thoughts on “‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,’ by Rachel Joyce: Book Review”

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