Amazon had recommended this book to me several times, but it wasn’t until it became my book club book that I finally started reading it. The premise is very simple – an old man sets out on a long walk, and with each mile he remembers a moment from his past. Harold Fry is a meek man who is afraid of everything and has spent his whole life trying not to be noticed. Inspired by a letter, he sets out on a journey that will change his life.
One of the loveliest themes in this book is that of looking back at painful memories, of coming to terms with them, and of forgiving yourself and others when they acted out of fear. It acknowledges that we cannot change the past, and we may not be able to change the future, but we can be kind to people, and open up our hearts to love and to loss.
“It must be the same all over England. People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal.”
It is also an ode to British countryside. Rachel Joyce describes the scenery with such tender detail. “The hedgerows were sweetly scented with bowing heads of elderflower, and would through with wild clematis… The first of the gooseberries hung like hair green pods… The apple trees began to shake of their blossom, and bore beads of fruit; bluebells spread thick like water through the woodlands. The dandelions were already fluffheads of seed”.
I must admit that after reading this book, I have been investigating English walking holidays myself. The simplicity of simply putting one foot in front of the other, and the joy of slowly savouring the richness and diversity of the landscape does sound very appealing indeed. Though I’m glad I don’t have to bind my feet with duct tape every night.