This one was a bit of a surprise. It’s not a book I’d ordinarily pick up on my own, but a copy was loaned to me and I was pleasantly diverted by it for a couple of days.
I tend to read multiple books at once, picking up whichever happens to be closest depending on what room of the house I’m in, but this one followed me everywhere until I was done.
It’s a quaint little tale of a retired man who spends his days getting in his wife’s way and on her nerves, not quite sure what to do with himself now that he’s no longer working. One day he receives a note from an old co-worker he hasn’t seen in years, since she left his workplace and never returned. There’s a bit of a mystery about that, and some mention of a favor she did him that he never returned, but it’s clear that this female co-worker was never a romantic interest or even a close friend.
The note informs him that she’s dying of cancer and hasn’t got long to live. Harold pens a note in response, and tells his wife he’s just off to post the note, but something happens on the way to the mailbox. Harold starts thinking about things, about the co-worker, life, death, the past and the future, his relationship with his son and his wife. He passes the mailbox and decides he’ll post his note at the next one, then the next, until it’s clear that he can’t mail the note as-is.
A chance encounter with a gas-station attendant gives him a crazy idea about miracles. He stops and phones the hospice where his dying co-worker is staying, asks to speak to her but isn’t able to get through. He tells the nurse on the line “Tell her Harold Fry is on his way. All she has to do is wait. Because I am going to save her, you see. I will keep walking and she must keep living.”
With that, his journey begins. She’s on the North end of England, and he’s on the South, but he plans to walk the whole distance. He phones his wife and she accepts his plan but doesn’t understand it and doesn’t really take it too seriously, but as time passes and she realizes he’s serious, it causes her to re-think their whole history.
Meanwhile, Harold continues his journey, encounters a journalist in a pub, and is suddenly made into a national cause. People are reporting sightings of him all over, and a motley assortment of pilgrims shows up to tag along and partake of his mystic wisdom – of which there’s not a jot, as far as he’s concerned. He has no idea what he’s doing or even why, really, except a vague sense that it’ll help Queenie (the co-worker). Sponsors come out of the woodwork offering hiking boots, water bottles, clothes, you-name-it, and his walk becomes a televised event that takes on a life of its own, usurped in the public imagination by the posturings of his followers, who have turned it into a bit of a cult.
Harold walks on through all of it, learning about himself, other people, his relationship with his wife, faith, hope, love, and all that good stuff.
The ending isn’t what I expected, but I still found it to be a great cathartic resolution. No odd loose ends or unexplained phenomenon, just a man coming to terms with his life and renewing his marriage over the course of a road trip, basically.
It was amusing, thought-provoking, and ultimately uplifting. Left me with a crooked smile and a sense that redemption is possible, even if it doesn’t look like what you thought it would.
All-in-all, a book I’d recommend to just about anyone.