Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Joyce’

Turns out I have had a bit of time for reading, so here’s my take on two quick reads: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde.

Both of these books met my reading needs this week: they’re easy, entertaining books I could read between cooking, hanging out with my family, and catching up with friends and family by phone. That said, both were less appealing than the hype I’d heard.

I think The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry would have been a good novella, or even a long short story. At 336 pages, it plodded at times and there were too many passages that were similar to something I’d read a few pages earlier. If it hadn’t been a quick read, I may have put it down.

That said, I liked the story, which is about a recently retired brewery salesman in southwestern England who gets a letter from an old friend and colleague, Queenie, who is in hospice. The letter triggers all sorts of memories and Harold writes back. On his way to post the letter, an unlikely encounter leads to an even unlikelier decision: Harold will walk all the way to where his friend is, in northeast England. The audacity of this plot twist is enough to make it work.

Harold has experienced a psychological shock and it worked for me that he would do something so unusual and even a little nutty. He’s had enough of regrets and pain. He’s going to do something worthwhile.

As the rest of the book unfolds, I liked the way his wife, Maureen, begins to face the ways she and Harold have grown apart. I liked the revelations about their marriage, their only son, and the backstory about Queenie. I enjoyed how their neighbor, Rex, helps Maureen make her way back to Harold emotionally.

And the stages of Harold’s pilgrimage made sense as well, his doubts and low points, a few helpful people he meets, some skeptics, and the inevitable publicity and people trying to cash in.  I just felt the whole thing went on too long and could have been done more effectively in a shorter, tighter book.

I love Jasper Fforde. I’m a big fan of the Thursday Next books (especially the early ones) and Shades of Grey (no, not Fifty, just Shades of Grey), his Nursery Crime books. The Last Dragonslayer is a YA book, and it’s not as complex as some of Fforde’s other work, which is a shame. It’s still fairly imaginative in the trademark Fforde way — he is masterful at making magic seem a normal part of the familiar world. And he nails human nature in very clever, very funny ways in all of his books.

But for some reason this book didn’t really wow me. The villains seemed a little predictable, or at least a little too much like the villains in Thursday Next books. A promising character, Tiger Prawns, never really gets to shine. Jennifer Strange, the heroine, was uneven. The finale seemed a bit rushed. Again, the story was good, but the execution just didn’t do it for me.

So in both cases, I didn’t hate the book nor did I love it. Am I too full of turkey to have properly appreciated these books? Is it autumn ennui? I’m not sure.

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