I absolutely loved this book. I had the experience I sometimes do where I start reading it one evening, immediately get drawn in, continue it the next morning and think, “I’m going to have to slow down reading this, or it won’t last more than a few hours, and it’s such a wonderful book I want it to last forever.” Then I abandon the attempt to read slowly and just race through to the end because I can’t stop myself. This, friends, was my experience with Harold Fry.
The plot is simple: Harold Fry, a retired man living a fairly staid and boring life in the south of England, receives a letter from an old acquaintaince, Queenie Hennessey, who lives at the other end of the country. Queenie is dying of cancer and has written to say goodbye. Harold, who hasn’t had any contact with Queenie for twenty years, initially plans to drop her a note in the mail, but when he sets off to the mailbox, he simply keeps walking. Somehow he becomes convinced that if he keeps walking, he can keep Queenie alive. He walks away from his wife Maureen and their chilly marriage, away from their house which is touched by sadness for reasons that gradually become clear, and north towards Queenie Hennessey.
Along the way the walk truly does become a pilgrimage, in ways that are funny, touching, and deeply (though not always conventionally) spiritual. The story of Harold’s past unfolds through his memories as the hardship of the walk forces him to examine them, and we learn that his marriage to Maureen, which at first seems simply to have slipped into late-life boredom with each other, has in fact been shadowed by a tragedy from which both Harold and Maureen are struggling to recover. As Harold makes his unlikely journey, Maureen, too, has to change direction if their relationship is to survive. But will it? And will Queenie survive cancer if Harold gets to her? And will Harold himself survive the walk?