“The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday,” reads the first sentence of Pilgrimage. Fry is a milquetoast of a man, retired, but dresses in a shirt and tie. When the lawn is mowed he doesn’t have much to do but sit on his chair. His wife Maureen doesn’t say much except to berate him. Harold and Maureen’s marriage went stale a long time ago, to the point where Harold thinks of her as “a wall that you expected to be there, even if you didn’t often look at it.” The letter is from a friend and co-worker Queenie who is dying at a hospice that is 627 miles north of Harold’s home near the English Channel. When Harold reads the letter, he responds with a tearful “I um. Gosh.” He writes her a postcard and walks down his road to mail it. When he gets to the first post box he decides to go to the next one. Eventually he writes her another letter saying that he is walking to see her and that she must hang on until he gets there. Fry heads out with only the clothes on his back. “If we don’t go mad once in a while, there’s no hope.” The pilgrimage changes not only Fry but also his wife Maureen, his neighbour Fox and all the people who come in contact with him along the way.
Pilgrimage is a must read. It was short listed for the Mann Booker Prize.
“… He went under the stars, and the tender light of the moon, when it hung like an eyelash and the tree trunks shone like bones. He walked through wind and weather, and beneath sun-bleached skies. It seemed to Harold that he had been waiting all his life to walk. He no longer knew how far he had come, but only that he was going forward. The pale Cotswold stone became the red brick of Warwickshire, and the land flattened into middle England. Harold reached his hand to his mouth to brush away a fly, and felt a beard growing in thick tufts. Queenie would live. He knew it.”