Like many people, I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2012) and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (2014). Finally, we hear from one of the other significant characters in these books, Harold’s wife Maureen. I am a big fan of Rachel Joyce’s writing and was really looking forward to reading this last part of the story.
About the book
Ten years ago, Harold Fry set off on his epic journey on foot to save a friend. But the story doesn’t end there.
Now his wife, Maureen, has her own pilgrimage to make.
Maureen Fry has settled into the quiet life she now shares with her husband Harold after his iconic walk across England. Now, ten years later, an unexpected message from the North disturbs her equilibrium again, and this time it is Maureen’s turn to make her own journey.
But Maureen is not like Harold. She struggles to bond with strangers, and the landscape she crosses has changed radically. She has little sense of what she’ll find at the end of the road. All she knows is that she must get there.
Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North is a deeply felt, lyrical and powerful novel, full of warmth and kindness, about love, loss, and how we come to terms with the past in order to understand ourselves and our lives a little better. Short, exquisite, while it stands in its own right, it is also the moving finale to a trilogy that began with the phenomenal bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and continued with The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.
This is a slender book but it has all the power and weight of a classic.
“How do we accept the unacceptable?” one of the characters asks in this novel and that really is what this book is about, trying to find a way to come to terms with something which seems unbearable.
As I wasn’t blogging when I read the first two books, and didn’t realise how important reviews are to authors at the time, I don’t have any of my own reviews to look back on. From reading the synopsis of the books though, key events came back to me. You could read this as a standalone book as Rachel Joyce does include enough information about the main points from the other two, but I really think it would make sense to have read the other books before you read Maureen’s story.
Well my goodness this is an emotional read. Maureen has featured in the previous two books of course but has not been the main focus. In fact, I’m going to try to carefully word this review in case you haven’t read the others. When Maureen sets off on her journey, she’s a bit more practical than her husband was ten years previously and she drives rather than walks to the north east of England. Maureen has been coping in her own way with terrible loss, or should I say that she has not been coping. Throughout the journey, she makes all kinds of discoveries including about herself and she doesn’t always like what she finds out. “… she could go where she liked, but she would never get away from herself.”
Rachel Joyce writes with such great understanding into the human condition and this book is a study on how grief can affect someone throughout many years, particularly if they put that grief into a box and try to keep a lid on it. Although Maureen comes across as prickly and quite rude at times, my heart went out to this woman who was grieving not just for what she had lost but for all the possibilities that had also been lost.
Yet for all the sorrow, this book is not completely bleak. The relationship and deep love expressed in simple ways between Harold and Maureen is very touching. The help Maureen finds herself having to accept from strangers changes her in some ways too. What she finds at the end of her pilgrimage unexpectedly brings peace and some form of acceptance to Maureen.
Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North is a beautiful conclusion to the Harold Fry trilogy, perhaps the most moving of the three books. Once you have read it, you will realise what a clever and poignant title that is. It may be a short book at just under 150 pages but it is a powerful story of resilience, healing and above all love.
Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North will be published on Thursday 20th October.
My thanks to publishers Transworld for providing a digital review copy from Netgalley.
About the Author
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, The Music Shop, and the New York Times bestseller Miss Benson’s Beetle, as well as a collection of interlinked short stories, A Snow Garden & Other Stories. Her books have sold over 5 million copies worldwide, and been translated into thirty-six languages. Two are currently in development for film.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Rachel was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘UK Author of the Year’ 2014.
Rachel has also written over twenty original afternoon plays and adaptations of the classics for BBC Radio 4, including all the Bronte novels. She lives with her family near Stroud.
You can follow Rachel on Instagram at rachelcjoyce, and find out more news at https://www.rachel-joyce.co.uk