The BUZZ: Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, one of Washington Post’s Best Books of the Year. Originally written as a radio play.
The GIST: Reserved Harold and sullen Maureen Fry are unhappily going through the motions of retirement in their English cottage. One morning, Harold receives a letter from a woman he worked with twenty years ago, saying goodbye from her hospice bed. He writes a response, and sets off to to mail it. Instead, he passes by the post box and spontaneously decides to hand deliver the letter himself. Without telling Maureen, wearing only boating shoes, Harold begins a six hundred mile walk from Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed. He believes that his old friend will stay alive while he walks. The journey becomes an internal one, giving him grounds for deep reflection and personal change. People he encounters on his way shape him in unexpected ways, even joining him to support his cause, turning him into a celebrity of sorts.
The WRITING: Subtle and gorgeous. Rachel Joyce sees poetry in the simplest things. In Harold, she describes an ordinary man who has become trapped in a meaningless life. As his odyssey progresses, we watch him gather the tools he needs to repair his broken heart as best he can. The English countryside comes alive in vibrant color and fabric, populated by arguing couples, a man in a dress, pub owners and shop keepers. Harold is an endearing observer and eager student, ready to finally open his eyes to the world around him and become fully present in every step on his path. The author leads the way kindly and without judgement, allowing us to learn along with these characters. Some things in life cannot be repaired, only endured, but there is hope in our openness to life and willingness to change and grow.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy it. Although it got off to a slow start, I plan to read this book again. It is, in a way, a parable that warrants frequent reflection.
He must have driven this way countless times, and yet he had no memory of the scenery. He must have been so caught up in the day’s agenda, and arriving punctually at their destination, that the land beyond the car had been no more than a wash of one green, and a backdrop of one hill. Life was very different when you walked through it.