Van has finished reading…The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

28 Jan

Where’s the whimsy? I was expecting whimsy! Okay, I wasn’t really, but you’d perhaps be forgiven for thinking that there’d be an amount of light-heartedness about the story that would follow such a title. And in that opening paragraph – so utterly suburban in its outlook – I could feel the tug of a knowing smile already twisting my lips as I settled down with this wry narrator. But that’s as suburban as it gets with this book; the execution of it is right at the other end of the scale. Just look at that first paragraph, how it hems and fixes us so completely; you just know that these things that have been going on like this for years are about to veer.

It’s very English in the same way that some books are very American or African or Indian. I don’t think it has anything to do with location or the author, it’s very much down to Harold and Maureen and that wonderfully clipped narrator. Is it in the humour? Well, yes, but I don’t think specifically so. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s generationally English. Harold twenty years younger would I think feel completely wrong, a fish out of water entirely. And yet, and yet. It’s that reserve that still laces through these isles that’s so easy to recognise. The way the desire to do something, and the sheer lack of knowing what or how so hamstrings the emotions when they’re the very things we really need to get us through. How many of us on reading this look back to a father or grandfather and remember the all-purpose brogues in the hall by the door! Trainers? Hiking boots? Well I never!

I generally try and avoid those overused words ‘beautifully written’; I always feel the need to say, ‘but it’s typed and printed, it’s not calligraphy.’ However in this instance I think it’s hard to avoid them. It’s a portrait that Rachel Joyce gives us. Of Harold, and of Maureen; of their separate togetherness and it’s a thing they seem to tend like a third family member. And there’s the landscape too, dear old England in all its verdant finery. Genuinely, beautifully written.
And very funny too, which of course gives the counter to those moments when you’re not going to be able to swallow that biscuit on account of the lump that suddenly clogs your throat. Thanks for that, Rachel! Me and my ‘no, no, I’ve just got something in my eye’ on the train.

This book will probably make you laugh, and likely it will make you cry, unless perhaps you’re made of stone. Either way it will entertain and possibly edify. You’ll meet people and places so recognisable you’ll think you’re reading about that place a little way down the road there. And the best thing is that when you’ve finished this one, there’s The Love Song Of Queenie Hennessy waiting for you! Enjoy.

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One Response to “Van has finished reading…The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce”

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  1. Van has finished reading… The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon | vanisreading - 04/05/2017

    […] writing reminds me of Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry. There’s that same, seemingly very English sense of wry humour, and in the expertly rendered […]

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