Black Swan £7.99
Paperback review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, By Rachel Joyce
She who would valiant be ...
Sunday 27 January 2013
Rachel Joyce's debut novel has taken a fairly simple narrative form, the allegory, and updated it. The journey of Christian through Vanity Fair and the Slough of Despond to the Celestial City was John Bunyan's genius creation, as his humble, everyman hero struggled on his way with his burden on his back. It was a religious tale, of course, full of symbolism. How does Joyce's modern take on it fare?
The withdrawal of religion from the lives of so many of us means a necessary change in our relationship with symbolism. It's no accident that Charlotte Brontë produced novels full of symbolism, being brought up in a religious household; the same could be said for Jeanette Winterson. Joyce's tale eschews all such symbolism for self-help: Harold Fry is ostensibly setting out on his long walk from Devon to Berwick-on-Tweed to save his friend, Queenie Hennessy, who is dying of cancer in a nursing home. Really, though, he is trying to save himself from the "slough of despond" into which his own life has sunk.
"Self-help" sounds trite, though: Joyce has written an appealing, sentimental story about "it never being too late to right a wrong" indeed, but she also has created, with admirable ease, the kind of character whom readers will struggle to forget, who is genuine from the very beginning (despite having secrets of his own). Her prose style is appropriately straightforward yet also emotionally gripping, to make a 21st-century morality tale that ultimately, and perhaps surprisingly, celebrates the kindness of strangers.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 4 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
- 5 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
Glastonbury 2015: Coldplay will not headline but Florence Welch might play, says Emily Eavis
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Mal Peet dead at 67: Tributes to children's author who was 'universally adored'
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin