BOOK REVIEW: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel JoyceThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
By Rachel Joyce
Completed May 14, 2012

The front cover of my advanced reader’s edition of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry had the word “marvelous” in big, bold letters across it. Shrugging it off as marketing mumbo jumbo, I started reading this book, expecting an average read by a new author. Well, 24 hours later, I finished the last sentence and could only think of one word, “marvelous.” The front cover didn’t lie.

Harold Fry is newly retired and trying to stay out of the way of his wife, Maureen. He receives a letter from a former colleague and friend, Queenie, who writes to tell him that she is dying from cancer. Hearing from Queenie was a shock, and Harold is a bit flummoxed on how to respond. He jots down a few lines and decides to drop the letter in the mailbox down the street. En route, he keeps walking further and further, until he makes a decision: he is going to walk all the way to Queenie’s hospice (some 500+ miles). As long as he keeps walking, Queenie will live. Harold Fry begins his journey.

The story then falls into pace with Harold’s walk. The reader takes every step with him – through small English towns and among meadows and steams. As Harold meets people along his way, he learns the value of listening and not judging. At times, the journey seems too much, and with each blister and sore muscle, the reader keeps nudging Harold on.

As Harold spends time alone, he contemplates the history of his marriage and his son, David. Joyce not only gives us Harold’s perspective but Maureen’s too. The couple has been through a lot, and as I reached the end of the book, I was rooting for them both.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a gem of a book – giving the reader so much to mull over. I couldn’t put the book down until I learned the fate of Harold and if he reached Queenie. I would not rest until I knew what happened to Maureen and Harold. From the first page to the last, this story had me engaged and enthralled. I recommend it to anyone who likes to take a journey through reading. You won’t be disappointed by Rachel Joyce’s superb writing and Harold’s tale. (  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne EnrightThe Forgotten Waltz
By Anne Enright
Completed May 11, 2012

Had The Forgotten Waltz not been nominated for the 2012 Orange Prize, I probably wouldn’t have read it. When I read The Gathering by Anne Enright, I found it to be such a bleak novel; I was not in a hurry to read something by Enright again. Thankfully, The Forgotten Waltz was a better reading experience.

At the core of this novel is an examination of modern marriage. Gina is newly married when she meets one of her sister’s neighbors, Sean. Over time, Gina and Sean begin to have an affair. When Gina’s mom died suddenly, Sean and Gina become  little less careful about their secret, and eventually, they must make decisions about their marriages and their own relationship.

Sean has a daughter, Evie, who experienced unexplained seizures as a child, leaving Sean’s wife, Aileen, overprotective and nervous. Enright does a commendable job showing the strains an unhealthy child can have on a marriage. Furthermore, Enright taps into the difficulties of becoming involved with a person who has a child. As the story progresses, Gina realizes that she will always be second to Evie’s needs. She must decide if she can live with that.

Gina is an interesting character. If I knew her in real life, I would have to plan an intervention. She is fallible and borderline delusional about her relationships – not only with Sean, but with her husband, sister and deceased parents. She reaches for cigarettes and alcohol a lot, but what she really needs is a good therapist.

All in all, The Forgotten Waltz was a solid read that explored relationships, love and marriage. It just goes to show you: sometimes you can’t judge an author by just one book. (  )

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