I found this odd little book difficult to get into, perhaps because I was ill, or perhaps because I couldn't get over the desire to slap some sense into Harold Fry. He's a mousy Englishman whose major desire is for no one to notice him. He feels he has failed everyone he has ever known, has nothing to offer the world, and that most likely everyone else either despises him or feels sorry for him.
Harold and his wife Maureen have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for years, and she only speaks to him to complain about something petty. In fact, a rare funny moment in the book is when Harold has gone on his pilgrimage and she doesn't want to do household chores anymore. It's no fun, she thinks, without being able to slam down the basket and complain endlessly about how much work she has to do.
Their life changes drastically the day Harold receives a note from a woman he had worked with years earlier. She is in a hospice 500 miles north of his home and wanted to thank him for his friendship before she died. He remembers that they were indeed friends, and that she had done a huge favor for him for which he never adequately thanked her. On his way to post a letter back to her, he decides he must go to her, that as long as he is walking toward her, she will live. And so he sets out - without cell phone, enough money, decent walking shoes, anything.
As he walks, he remembers and he thinks. We learn why he is who he is. He learns about people he meets along the way, and to appreciate nature. He becomes aware of plants and buys a guidebook to learn about them. He watches the sky change and he walks in rain or dry.
Meanwhile, at home Maureen is so lonely without him she doesn't know what to do. Finally she becomes friends with a widower across the street who is a great help to her. He manages to take her out of her malaise a bit.
The whole story has wonderful messages, and the characters he meets are the kind of ordinary folks you might meet anywhere. There's even a dog he calls Dog who travels part of the way with him and gives him the love he needs so desperately. I still had the occasional desire to slap Harold silly, but for the most part I admired his dogged dedication to his quest. I felt sad for him, Maureen, Queenie who is dying and many of the people who helped him. It isn't an easy book to read, and yet I'm very glad I did read it.
Source: Random House