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Original Essays | September 30, 2014

Brian Doyle: IMG The Rude Burl of Our Masks

One day when I was 12 years old and setting off on my newspaper route after school my mom said will you stop at the doctor's and pick up something... Continue »
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    Children and Other Wild Animals

    Brian Doyle 9780870717543


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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Shonna, January 15, 2013

I've been reading this novel slowly, trying to prolong it as I was enjoying it so much. Harold Fry is a retired salesman for a brewery. He lives a quiet life with his wife Maureen, until one day he receives a letter from a former colleague, Queenie Hennessy. The letter indicates that Queenie is dying of cancer, and Harold isn't sure how to respond. He finally writes a quick note, shoves it in an envelope, and walks out to the postbox. But inexplicably, he doesn't stop there, deciding to go to the next one, and then the next one, and he just keeps walking. He finally realizes that he is walking to Queenie, across most of Britain, a task he is woefully unprepared for. He keeps calling and sending postcards to Maureen, telling her of his progress, and meets a variety of characters, most of whom assist him in his journey. Maureen, at home, also goes through a change as she deals with her husband's unexpected pilgrimage, looking at her own life and the things she has done and said.
Ultimately, it is a story of their marriage, their struggles and the gulf that has grown between them and the events that are now an opportunity for them to bridge that gulf.
The writing is wonderful. We get a sense of Harold's past as we see his mother "She was young, with a peony-bud mouth and a husband who had seemed a good idea before the war and a bad one after it." We see how he learned at a young age "to appear absent even when present".
As he finds himself walking, he finds he is both revisiting his past and really noticing the world around him. He muses "maybe you saw even more that the land when you got out of the car and used your feet." Harold has more revelations as his journey continues. "He saw that when a person becomes estranged from the things they know, and is a passerby, strange things take on a new significance."
A story of a man's life, his struggle to do the right things, to say the right things, coming from a past where he wasn't taught how to do any of it. This is an amazing book, well worth the read.
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