Rachel Joyce’s first novel — about a retired Englishman shuffling off to visit a dying colleague — sounds twee, but it’s surprisingly steely, even inspiring, the kind of quirky book you want to shepherd into just the right hands. If your friends don’t like it, you may have to stop returning their calls for a little while until you can bring yourself to forgive them.
The loyalty inspired by this unassuming story is surprising. Joyce was an actress for 20 years before she started writing plays for BBC Radio, but “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is not a story of much drama. It begins on a spring day like any other in a small English village in Kingsbridge. Harold recently retired from the local brewery, and now has nothing to do. “He never did the unexpected,” Joyce writes. “Days went by and nothing changed; only his waist thickened, and he lost more hair.” Worse, after 47 years of marriage, he and his wife, Maureen, live like strangers in their spotless home, where the air is thick with blame. Their once-promising son never calls, never visits.
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