Rachel Joyce's debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, turned into more than I thought it would. I sensed it would be the a typically quirky but quite charming English tale a la Alexander McCall Smith novels or a movie like Waking Ned Devine. And while it was certainly both charming and quirky, it had more grief and sadness than what I was expecting. Upon receiving a letter from a woman from his past who is now dying of cancer, Harold Fry on his way to the post office with a reply letter instead just keeps on walking, beginning a cross-country trip to see her in-person.At first, it was just all a bit too cute and heavy-handed for me. The newly retired Harold, with a broken marriage and, even more so, a broken life using a this road-trip as a means of self-discovery, "it's not the destination, but the journey" symbolism, facing the whole "unexamined life is not worth living" -- it was all a bit too much. But as someone who is currently deep in "mid-life" mode, it was hard not to empathize with Harold and wonder be wondering with Harold about what is life all about and whiling away days, weeks, months, years, decades... to what end?
So while that aspect ultimately resonated with me, there were other issues I had with the novel. As in many road-trip novels, there are many mini-stories create the fabric of the entire novel. As is usually the case, some of these were better than others. For instance, while I get what Joyce was shooting at, a good mid-section chunk of the novel where Harold's pilgrimage goes public, slogged on a bit much/long for me.
Additionally, there a few secrets held by the characters. I am increasingly finding I have a lack of patience with novels/authors who hold these secrets hostage to the reader. While this is an easy reading novel, at a few points, I still found myself wondering if I had missed the "reveal." I had not -- and I see perhaps see why Joyce held off as it allowed a jumping off point for the story to end, and quite emotionally -- but it still smacked of being a bit too manipulative.
Ratings-wise, I am torn. Really was charmed and emotionally responded to the story and I think many, many others would be as well, but it always felt I could see the all the working-parts churning, spinning and steaming vs. them being hidden behind proverbial curtain.
3.5 stars, with my picayune critical-eye stuff resulting in the weeble-wobble down to a Goodreads 3 stars.