When the story begins, Harold Fry has retired from his job and is facing another nothing day while his wife Maureen scrubs the house again and picks at him over the morning toast. A letter arrives from an old work colleague. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice, dying of cancer, and writes to say goodbye.
Harold is moved and feels he must reply. He struggles writing a note and sets out to mail it, slipping on a waterproof jacket and a pair of boat shoes. But when he gets to the mailbox, he keeps going, and going. He decides that he will walk to Queenie, and while he walks, Queenie will live. Queenie is 600 miles away in the north of England.
Harold has encounters with people along the way, most of them offering help, encouragement and insight into his journey.
He finds that as he walks, the past comes flooding back, memories of his mother’s abandoning him, his father turning him out, the day he met Maureen, his son, David. And Queenie, a co-worker who made a sacrifice for him before she disappeared 20 years ago.
Joyce writes of Harold’s triumphs and anguish, both physical and mental — he has blisters and leg pains, he cries and grows discouraged, he learns about the flowers along the road. Every few chapters, the book looks back at Maureen and her struggles with Harold’s pilgrimage and with her own sorrow.
Their marriage is hollow, damaged by something that happened 20 years ago, around the time Queenie left town. We don’t know what that something is until very late in the book. Through their journeys, each one — Harold on the road, Maureen at home — works through the ups and downs of the separation and the reconciling of their past.
Have a box of tissue handy for the last few chapters. This is one powerful book about love that overcomes horrible sorrows and survives to laugh.
This book is a natural for book clubs and could very well become a best-seller, and perhaps a movie. It’s that good. I highly recommend it.