Harold Fry is living a life of emotional desolation in small seaside community with his wife Maureen.
Harold receives news that a former coworker, Queenie, is dying of cancer and writes her a sympathy note. On his walk to the mailbox, he doesn’t stop. After a chat with a store clerk, he decides that he is going to save Queenie by walking to see her on the opposite end of Great Britain, roughly 800 miles away. Harold is drowning in trauma. He was emotionally and physically abused a child, treated badly at work and facing down some serious trauma as an adult. He is looking for a lifeline and deciding to walk to Queenie might just save him.
This was the January pick for my IRL book club and the group was pretty much split on whether they liked it or not. I wasn’t a fan, which is not surprising. I don’t like Hemmingway and think that Holden Caulfield is a whiny prat in need of an antidepressant and a cold dose of reality. In other words, I am not the target audience of this book. This book meanders along, much like Harold, with an unreliable narrator. He’s the emotionally repressed Forrest Gump and not just because his ill-advised walk attracts a small group of devote followers for a portion of the book.
I had issues with the idea that Harold’s time spent walking had given him insight into the secret desires of other people. Early in his walk he is having breakfast with a group of women on a cycling tour. One of the women is celebrating her divorce with her friends and is going a little wild. Harold thinks that he can see her secret pain because he is in pain too. What the world doesn’t need is another old white guy imposing his bullshit on a woman from a younger generation because he doesn’t value her agency. Talk about an unreliable narrator.
I feel a great deal of empathy for Harold. His parents were assholes and they created a person so beat down that others can’t help but pile on. He’s maintaining but not very well. Maureen is dealing with stuff too and to say more about her journey would spoil a few of the engaging plot points. These two are extremely unhappy.
The book is well written, no question. The author is a little heavy with foreshadowing but she writes an elegant story of people addressing emotional trauma with some radical steps. If you like emotionally stunted British men learning to express emotion, then go read Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro, then if you feel the need for some more, this book will be adequate.