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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (19,776 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Rachel Joyce Narrator: Jim Broadbent Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: July 2012 ISBN: 9780449012765
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In Rachel Joyce's ambitious novel "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry", retirement is not treating Harold Fry well. Not used to having him home all the time, his wife is starting to be agitated by everything he does, and with little else to do, Harold is terribly bored. One morning their bickering is disrupted by a mysterious letter from a forgotten friend, Queenie Hennessy, wishing Harold well and saying her last goodbyes.

On his way to mail his reply back to Queenie, Harold is inspired to deliver his goodbyes to her in person. Determined that as long as he walks Queenie will live on, Harold sets out to walk the 600 miles to his old friend's bedside. His wife, glad to be rid of him for a while, wishes him well and lets him go even though he's off to see another woman.

Harold sets out to save a friend and ends up on an adventure. Throughout his journey he finds one quirky stranger after another, and each of whom takes him back to the man he used to be and the things he loved about his life before it got boring. By the time he makes his way to Queenie, the old Harold has been reawakened, he's found a new vigor for life, and he is set on saving his friend. Will he succeed?

Harold's story is beautifully written, and delivers a poignant message about living and what happens when you forget what life is all about. As Harold travels with his ever-growing band of pilgrims, the reader travels with him, and Joyce does a terrific job of hooking the reader on every word.

Rachel Joyce is a British author and lives with her husband and children in Gloucestershire. While she does have experience writing plays for BBC Radio Four, and has won the Tinniswood Award for Best Radio Play, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is her debut novel. At the 2012 National Book Awards, Rachel won the "Writer of the Year" Award.

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.

Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce’s remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.

Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him—allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.

And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.

A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “From its charming beginning to its startling and cathartic denouement, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a comic and tragic joy.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • “When it seems almost too late, Harold Fry opens his battered heart and lets the world rush in. This funny, poignant story about an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey moved and inspired me.”

    Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank

  • “There’s tremendous heart in this debut novel by Rachel Joyce, as she probes questions that are as simple as they are profound: Can we begin to live again, and live truly, as ourselves, even in middle age, when all seems ruined? Can we believe in hope when hope seems to have abandoned us? I found myself laughing through tears, rooting for Harold at every step of his journey. I’m still rooting for him.”

    Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

  • “Marvelous! I held my breath at his every blister and cramp, and felt as if by turning the pages, I might help his impossible quest succeed.”

    Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

  • “The odyssey of a simple man…original, subtle and touching.”

    Claire Tomalin, author of Charles Dickens: A Life

  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry takes the most ordinary and unassuming of men and turns him into a hero for us all. To go on this journey with Harold will not only break your heart, it might just also heal it.”

    Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

  • “A gentle and genteel charmer, brimming with British quirkiness yet quietly haunting in its poignant and wise examination of love and devotion. Sure to become a book-club favorite.”


  • “[A] story of present-day courage…about how easily a mousy, domesticated man can get lost and how joyously he can be refound.”

    New York Times, editorial review

  • “[A] gorgeously poignant novel of hope and transformation.”

    O: The Oprah Magazine

  • “Remarkable…I can’t think of a better recommendation for summer reading. And take your time, just as Harold does.”

    USA Today (starred review)

  • “It will stick with you, this story of faith, fidelity and redemption.”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune

  • “For all of us perfectly responsible, stoop-shouldered suburbanites wearing a path in the living-room carpet, Harold’s ridiculous journey is a cause for celebration…In this bravely unpretentious and unsentimental tale, [Rachel Joyce] has cleared space where miracles are still possible.”

    Washington Post

  • “Harold’s journey is ordinary and extraordinary; it is a journey through the self, through modern society, through time and landscape. It is a funny book, a wise book, a charming book—but never cloying. It’s a book with a  savage twist—and yet never seems manipulative. Perhaps because Harold himself is just wonderful…I’m telling you now: I love this book.”

    The Times (UK), editorial review

  • An AudioFile Editors’ Pick in May 2013
  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award
  • Selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award
  • Selected for Oprah’s Summer Reading List in 2012
  • A 2012 Washington Post Notable Book for Fiction
  • Longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize
  • Winner of the 2013 ALA Notable Book Award

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Anita Bartholomeusz | 2/20/2014

    " Lovely, lovely book. Unusual story and not the kind of character I would normally choose to read about but I ended up really rooting for him. Easy, sweet read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Morrisonmm77 | 2/16/2014

    " about the people we meet as we walk our lives journey and how we matter to each other....interesting..... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jane Curtis | 2/15/2014

    " I found this book to be very readable and engaging. Harold Fry wasn't as boring and ordinary as the author would at first have us believe. His life unfolded during the journey and the ending didn't disappoint. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Claudia | 2/9/2014

    " A great journey read for every adult. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Alisa Roukema | 2/8/2014

    " Great story. The author definitely has a wonderful handle on human nature and relationships. I was disappointed its some of the bad language and felt it was unnecessary. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Dan Cardwell | 2/4/2014

    " Almost great. But not quite. If you love whimsy and wistful its certainly worth a read, but its missing that final magic that pushes it from fairly good to great. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Tanya | 2/4/2014

    " Didn't enjoy this at all. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Mary Smith | 2/2/2014

    " I thought it was quite depressing. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jan | 1/20/2014

    " Although seemed a bit slow it was an inspiring story of self awareness of a middle aged couple and what they had endured throughout their marriage and relationship. Throughout the book it makes you aware and think of your life and why and how we turn out the way we do. I liked this book "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Stephanie | 12/9/2013

    " Bland characters, mellow plotline, uninspiring storytelling. The only great thing about it is its charismatic title, book cover and first chapter, which did catch my attention. The rest was just a bore to get through. Not a pageturner, how this managed to get on a bestseller list is beyond me. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Nita Goldband | 12/6/2013

    " I enjoyed this book so much. It is a quick and lovely read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Amelia Zimet | 11/20/2013

    " So sweet and sad. Beautifully written tale that makes you want to get up and move. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kayleigh Rattle | 11/19/2013

    " Read of 2012 for me. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Debbie Mosher | 11/1/2013

    " What a moving story. It's the simple premise that if you put one foot in front of the other, you will eventually get to where you want to go. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Marna | 10/21/2013

    " Can't finish this right now. For some reason it's not capturing me in the way I want or need at the moment. Perhaps I'll return to it later... "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Carolyn | 8/21/2013

    " I became a bit bored with this book, but wanted to find out how it ended and what happened to Harold's son. I was easily distracted while reading this. Not a great pick. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Michele Yealands | 8/5/2013

    " I finished this book a couple of days ago. needed time to process, what a moving book and how the author captures you into Harold's story. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Diane | 8/1/2013

    " Starts so slow I thought, why am I reading this but it picks up speed so subtly I didn't notice how caught up in Harold's walk I had become and I never saw the sad, sad ending coming. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Andrea Saxe | 7/18/2013

    " It's a bit slow but it's very good. Finished it quickly "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mumsicle | 6/7/2013

    " uplifting realism if it can be had "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sandra Spring | 3/13/2013

    " So well written.....one of the best I've read in quite some time. Lots to discuss at book club! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Marie Mcniff | 12/7/2012

    " Meh. I really wanted to like this book more. The concept was very interesting; but the characters were stunted in their developments. There was a lot of repetition of memories of the characters. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Angie Weathers | 9/14/2012

    " Gentle and sometimes a bit slow, but like a rose opening one petal at a time reveaingl a truly delicate and beautiful experience. "

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About the Author
Author Rachel Joyce

The author, Rachel Joyce, has written over twenty original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4, and has created major adaptations for the Classic series and Woman’s Hour, as well as a TV drama adaptation for BBC2. In 2007 she won the Tinniswood Award for Best Radio Play. Joyce moved to writing after a twenty-year career in theatre and television, performing leading roles for the RSC, the Royal National Theatre, The Royal Court and Cheek by Jowl; and winning a Time Out Best Actress Award and the Sony Silver. She currently lives in Gloucestershire with her family and is at work on her second novel.