Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

3 of 47
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
336 pages; Random House
When Harold Fry receives a letter from his long out-of-touch friend, Queenie Hennessy, saying she is dying of cancer, the kind but reserved retired British salesman responds exactly as one would expect: He writes a two-line sympathy note and walks to the postbox. But then, instead of mailing the letter, he decides to keep walking—all 627 miles to Queenie's bedside in Berwick-upon-Tweed. In a rare display of faith, he also calls her hospice nurse: "Tell her Harold Fry is on his way.... I am going to save her...." Thus begins Rachel Joyce's gorgeously poignant novel of hope and transformation, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Twenty years earlier, Queenie did Harold an extraordinary kindness, and promptly disappeared. Walking to her now with blistered feet, he tells strangers about his quest and is surprised to discover that they "believed in him." Harold's wife, Maureen, regrets the years she's been unfairly mean to her husband and fears he'll never return; he's sure he isn't welcome. While a touching portrait emerges of Harold's long-ago friendship with the plain but dignified Queenie, this is ultimately a story of a marriage in need of repair. The question isn't whether Harold will reach Queenie, but whether he'll find his way back home.

— Karen Holt