Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Book Review

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an extended review, going beyond what I wrote on Goodreads. Maybe not so much a "book review" as a "here's-what-it-made-me-think-about review". 

As my friend/coworker Eric says, THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD!! Proceed at your own risk!


This book caught my eye when it came in and I mentally added it to my "to read" list. Then it was nominated and finally selected as the One Book, One Lincoln book and the review started coming in. They were mixed! Some people loved it, some didn't, some didn't really have an opinion one way or another (which I think is worse). That made me a little wary. But my fellow booksellers started a new book club and I wanted to join in, so I took the plunge.

I have to say that I really loved the first third of it and highlighted several passages that really rang true for me... I liked the 2nd third of the book, but I was getting a little annoyed with Harold... the final third I was pretty irritated with him, and just wanted to finish it so I could see if he finally saw Queenie. I was satisfied with the ending, though.

This was the first passage that really stuck with me. I read it, and re-read it, and wrote it down, and highlighted it. It's during a conversation with one of the characters that Harold meets as he's trekking across England.
"You'd think walking should be the simplest thing," she said at last. "Just a question of putting one foot in front of the other. But it never ceases to amaze me how difficult the things that are supposed to be instinctive really are."
Isn't that the truth?! I want to walk. Get out, get some exercise, enjoy the fresh air, experience my neighborhood, but I don't. Not on a regular basis. I know I should, but it's always one of those things that gets put off because it's too early or too late or too hot or too cold or it just seems like too much of a bother. My dad's cousin Gwenny walks. She's motivated and slim and has a healthy glow about her. A few years ago at our pre-reunion-reunion (long story), she went out for a walk in the park we were staying at and was gone for quite a while. My sister and I stayed at the cabin and talked and ate. I think about that day a lot. Maybe if I try to focus on the instinct part and less on the "I should" part? Hm.

and then later on...

Beginnings could happen more than once, or in different ways. You could think you were starting something afresh, when actually what you were doing was carrying on as before.
For me, this describes my struggle to Move More and Eat Real Food. I can't tell you how many times I've decided that I'm really going to stick with it this time. But something happens along the way and I find myself back in the same place I started. Was I really starting over? Or are certain habits so ingrained that it's really just me going on as usual, chasing my tail, ending up where I began. New beginnings deserve new thought patterns and new habits... why is it so hard to break the old ones? "They" say that it takes 21 days to create a new habit... ya right. It's a daily struggle. Every choice, big and small, contributes to that. I know that already, yet I still don't walk and end up hitting the drive thru or eating at the cafe at work more often than I care to admit.. Knowledge does not equal Action. 

To be fair, I do move a lot more in my current position than I have in years. I walk from one corner of the store to the other. I do about a thousand squats a day and "lift weights" in the form of hardcover books as I shelve. I can feel myself getting stronger. But I still sabotage myself and get lazy about my food and just want to put my feet up when I get home. I really don't know what it takes to make a permanent change like that... and what happens to your quality of life when you pass up chocolate cupcakes? Where is the balance? If I could just crack that code, the world would be a lot healthier and my pocketbook would be obese! I'm pretty sure I'm not going to figure it out tonight, though.

Back to the book. A few pages later...
The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human. 
He walked so surely it was as if all his life he had been waiting to get up from his chair.
There's truth in that... and wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone realized that we're all the same, but different. Also, I have been waiting all my life to get up out of this chair. Maybe tomorrow. ;-) (the Universe is just messing with me now... a lady and her cute white dog just walked by and they have Max in a tizzy.)

Still later...
He needed the very famous actor to know that you could be ordinary and attempt something extraordinary, without being able to explain it in a logical way.
Logic has very little to do with fearlessness or success. As Neil Gaiman said, "If you don't know it's impossible, it's easier to do."

and finally...
In talking to strangers, and listening, he feared he had created a need in them to be carried and he hadn't the strength for that anymore.
This, to me, is about following your own path and being selfish with your time and energy. This can happen with strangers, or even those you love. If you're going to create the life that YOU want, you can't deplete your inner resources trying to keep someone else above water. Sooner or later, they'll have to learn to swim or they'll pull you under with them. It may sound harsh, but you really do have to make yourself your number one priority. Especially if you have creative endeavors!

I believe that the Act of Creation requires that all of the positive forces in the universe swirl together and then funnel themselves through your unique being, allowing you to bring life to this new and exotic Object. Whether it's a painting or sculpture or manuscript or anything else that you consider to be your Work of Art. It's a Miracle of Creation. Uniquely yours to give. The world will really be missing out on something special if you give someone else's dream (or nightmare) the power to gobble up the energy that you require for Your Creation.

Selflessness comes naturally to certain people and that is their path. But don't let that guilt you into ignoring your gut instinct and keep you from creating what's deep inside you just waiting to come out. Don't carry others because people expect it of you. Do it because you can't imagine doing anything else. The world needs Balance to keep spinning. Do what comes naturally to You.

Harold had been carrying people his entire life... see where that got him?

To me, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is not only about him walking towards Queenie. It's about him running away from his life and everyone else's expectations of him. Of stepping outside of the Bog of Disappointment that he had been living in and trying to escape. I can almost see him as my favorite character Erica Strange... saying "I am suffocating under the weight of your collective disapproval!" and flouncing out of the room. Only he's too timid and mousy for that, so he just stands up and... leaves. Without telling anyone where he's going or why. Queenie is just an excuse to leave home. Which is the big reason that I didn't give this book 5-stars. He lets people walk all over him and doesn't stand up for himself. What a doormat. I didn't respect Harold at all. He was weak and then sponged off the entire countryside to complete his "pilgrimage". That broke my cardinal rule of carrying your own weight and not being a burden. Oh, Harold. Why couldn't you man up? You let life beat you to a pulp.

All in all, I give it 4-stars because it really made me think and ponder and look inside myself. (obviously, right?) It also made for excellent conversation at our Book Club last night.

PS - Gasp!! Being Erica used to be on Hulu and on YouTube... no longer... Oh, the Humanity!! If you ever get a chance to watch it, then do!!

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