I really enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. That’s why, when I saw the sequel, I was more than sceptical. Sequels, unless drafted seamlessly, have a way of falling flat on their faces and ruining the original book in the process. This seems to have happened with Go Set a Watchman as well, with many reviewers saying that it has destroyed Atticus for them. And that is why I’m not sure I’ll read it. But back to Rachael Joyce and her sequel, or not. Those who read about Fry will remember the woman who wrote to him and prompted his bizarre walking across England journey in the first place.
This book is a parallel story, so it runs at the same time as Fry is walking. Turns out, Queenie is not just the random colleague dying of cancer. Like many others, I too wondered who she really was, and why Harold walked to keep her alive. Her story begins and ends at the care home, where she is slowly withering away. And in those last few weeks, she decides that Harold must know everything that she has hidden from him. So she starts to write…
She’s barely able to lift a pen and so a sister who’s also a nurse is transcribing along with her onto a typewriter, and so the novel goes on. We learn of the woman behind the letter – her life, dreams, work and eventual catch up to where she is now. Her past is inextricably tied to Harold’s and it makes for a very enjoyable read.
Harold’s story is uplifting and charming as men’s lives tend to be, in spite of the hardships he has had to face. Queenie’s story, on the other hand, is much darker and there’s a very sad thread running through the entire narrative. As a reader, I had this curious sense of foreboding that things were not going to end well for her even if I understood her motivations for her actions. Joyce’s writing is instantly familiar and yet completely different, approaching another human being from another angle. I enjoyed this book thoroughly and will definitely recommend it. And even though it is a parallel book, it is still much more impactful if you read this after Harold Fry, rather than before.