I’ve been busy with life away from the computer lately but did enjoy the novel and film below.
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is a novel that I read for my book club this month and one that I wanted to read because it was so popular after its release in 2012. It made the long list for the Man Booker Prize, too. Not bad for a debut novel!
Many know by now it's about a retired man (Harold) in his 60s who, upon receiving a letter from a former work friend (Queenie) informing him of her terminal cancer, impulsively leaves his wife (Maureen) at home and undertakes a walking journey across England to visit her. He tells Queenie to wait for him and somehow thinks his walking will save her.
Along the way Harold meets various characters who help him on his difficult, ill-prepared 600-mile journey (in yachting shoes no less!), in which he reminisces about his life, pondering over his many regrets, namely that he wasn’t a better father to his only son. We also find out his marriage is just about completely broken and he’s been a total couch potato for a long, long time. But during the arduous journey he comes to be transformed as does his wife, who’s waiting for him at home. Towards the end, a dark part of the family’s past is revealed, which both come to grips with in a new and more understanding way.
The book seems to have a simple premise about an ordinary character I wouldn’t normally care much about, and yet the novel pulled me in from early on. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It had a lot of weighty themes, such as loneliness, despair, regret, fear, as well as hope and transformation. I enjoyed spending time with Harold on the road and those he meets along the way, and I thought the novel was beautifully written, both heartfelt and visually capturing.
One of my book club members said its pilgrimage reminded her a bit of “The Canterbury Tales,” which I thought was rather astute. It slightly reminded me of “Forrest Gump,” when Forrest runs across the country, thinking upon his life. The author Rachel Joyce said she wrote the story when her father was dying of cancer and that it was her escape. “My way,” she says, “of making sense. And somehow also my way of finding the flip side to my complicated, wild grief.”
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” is a touching gem and one that I’m glad not to have skipped over.
The movie “Mud,” too, is quite enjoyable. It’s a coming-of-age story about two 14-year-old boys (Ellis and Neckbone) who befriend a fugitive named Mud (played by Matthew McConaughey) that they come across hiding out on a small island, where an old motor boat sits lodged in a tree.
It’s set in a poor Arkansas town near the Mississippi River, where Ellis lives on a houseboat and helps his father sell catfish door to door. Secretly, the boys try to help Mud evade some bad-guy bounty hunters after him and reunite with his old trampy girlfriend, played, I thought, by a miscast Reese Witherspoon.
Ellis, in particular, steals the movie as the idealistic kid who believes in the fugitive Mud and life and high school love along the Mississippi, only to be crushed when things turn out not so rosy. The cinematography of the river and community along its shores also makes the story come alive, and it’s got a strong supporting cast that includes the iconic Sam Shepard and Michael Shannon of 2011’s “Take Shelter.” With some decent suspense and nice script twists, the movie is pretty entertaining. The only trouble is you have to suspend your disbelief quite a lot. How can they not find this fugitive when he’s right there in the open? The ending, too, gets pretty crazy and unbelievable, but still the boy’s story along the Mississippi for the most part is well worth the price of admission.
The screenwriter and director Jeff Nichols was apparently said to be inspired for the film “Mud” by Mark Twain’s works. And in seeing it, you can imagine that Ellis and Neckbone are sort of like a modern-day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I was slightly reminded, too, of the 1986 film “Stand by Me,” which has a similar coming of age, outback feel to it. It seems like Tye Sheridan who plays Ellis could well have a future in movies after his indelible performance in “Mud.”