ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Fingers do the walking through these pages

Penticton book reviewer Heather Allen explores The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Looking back over the year, there seems to be a common thread among the books I’ve read:  many are tales about walking.

I didn’t set out with a theme, nor did I actually choose most of these books myself. So it seems only fitting that my latest read, recommended by a reader of this column, is about a walking adventure: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by British author Rachel Joyce.

Harold Fry doesn’t plan on a journey. Indeed, his comfortable if stultifying suburban life entails very little in the way of walking at all. Yet one day, Harold receives a hot pink letter from Queenie, a work colleague he hasn’t seen in years.

The shakily scratched note reveals that she has terminal cancer.

The information disquiets Harold to such an extent that he immediately replies, and ignoring his usual routine, goes out to post his letter.

When he arrives at the first post box, he surprises himself again. He doesn’t mail the letter. Instead he keeps walking. As he happens upon each successive box, he keeps making excuses to walk rather than post the letter.

A chance encounter with a mystical young woman during the first hours of his walk cements Harold’s determination. He won’t mail the letter, but will walk all the way to Queenie to deliver his message in person.

Queenie, however, lives more than 500 miles away on England’s opposite coastline. Harold rarely walks further than from his garage to his front door, and at the time of his departure wears only yachting shoes and a light coat. This doesn’t deter him. Not only is he walking to Queenie, he believes that his pilgrimage will save her.

This book, long-listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, is a fascinating yet gentle read. With great deftness, Joyce reveals how walking is often as much an inward journey as an outward one.

As Harold follows the British motorways, he ponders his seemingly stale marriage, and the disappearance of his son. He recovers new memories about growing up. And bit by bit, he recalls small but mysterious excerpts of his relationship with Queenie.

Although Harold’s walk becomes a pilgrimage – crossing paths with wide assortment of often comical but usually well-meaning people – it isn’t overtly religious.

In fact, the walk is in part an attempt by Harold to restore faith and find meaning in his life in the absence of religion.

Joyce wonderfully conveys the sensation of walking – the euphoria of witnessing a sunrise and the misery of blisters and missing toenails. But she also latches onto the idea that something about the movement of walking is deeply connected to our psyche.

Walking is often the best way to have a good conversation with someone, and in this case, is a great way to unfold a story.

Heather Allen is a writer, reader and book reviewer living in Penticton.

Just Posted

Justice to decide court’s jurisdiction over Indigenous man

Alex Louie, also known as Senklip, is standing trial over 9 charges related to alleged gun smuggling

Driver trapped for 16 hours after car flips

Member of Anarchist Mountain Volunteer Fire Department in Osoyoos made discovery while out for walk

Increase in carbon monoxide closes Osoyoos arena

South Okanagan arena closed as of Monday morning to deal with repairs

Penticton pilots new mobile parking payment app

Eliminating the need to carry change for parking meters

Artist recruitment begins for 2018 sculpture exhibition

Penticton is looking for sculptors to participate in its second public sculpture exhibition

Rally condemns violence, promotes healing

Discovery of human remains and disappearances of women have created tension in the rural community

Province grants $784,000 for Okanagan projects

Rural Dividend grants support Okanagan community projects

B.C. NDP convention set for Victoria

Premier, federal leader Jagmeet Singh to add energy

Silver Creek RCMP search expands north

RCMP were seen collecting evidence three kilometres north of the farm where human remains were found

B.C. school trustee calls LGBTQ school program ‘weapon of propaganda’

Chilliwack’s Barry Neufeld published the comments on his Facebook page

B.C. couple hope boat drone becomes first to cross Atlantic

Colin and Julie Angus of Victoria to have drone collect environmental data en route

B.C. casino accused of illegal activity follows rules: operator

B.C. had launched review after concerns about money laundering at River Rock casino in Richmond

Opponents of LGBTQ program to file human rights complaint against Surrey School District

District denied Parents United Canada right to rent Bell Performing Arts Centre for rally next month

Ex-employee describes alleged sexual assault by B.C. city councillor

Complainant was a teen during the alleged 1992 incident

Most Read