Thursday, 14 August 2014

Read It Again

Is a book the same the second time you read it?  Probably it is, but you may be different.
This is my experience with "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry".

Here is the review that I wrote last year:
  The protagonist, Harold Fry, irritated me greatly.  "He had passed through life and made no impression".  His mother had left, his father drank and his wife, Maureen, did everything for him- even signing his name on the cards: "If she's Harold, who am I?"
  He had never connected with his son.  When there was a problem he left the house.  When his son, David, hung himself, Harold found him and took him down.
  At 65, newly retired, he got a letter from Queenie, who had worked with him 20 years previously and had taken the blame for his actions, getting fired in the process.
  Queenie was dying of cancer and Harold told her to hold on- he would walk to her.  He is unprepared- no proper shoes or any supplies.  He even sent home his wallet and credit card.  His story hits the news and he is joined by other strange characters.  Queenie did hang on and died shortly after he arrived.
  This book had great potential- a coming-of-age story of a 65 year old.  The time and distance did improve his relationship with his wife, Maureen, but that seems to be all he learned.  He finally remembered what she had said to him when they met at a dance, and the novel ends with them laughing on the beach.
  But he never realized that he had kept Queenie alive for his benefit- so that he could assuage his conscience.
  Great disappointment.

  A year later, I re-read the book for a book club and realized that my life circumstances had coloured my view of the book.  When I first read the book, my son was dying of cancer and I was appalled that anyone would want to extend the life (actually the death) of a cancer patient.  That was the only thing that I focussed on and it made the book distasteful.
  Now I am able to see other aspects of the book.  I still wish that the author had addressed the issue of expecting to cure cancer by willpower.  Actually, Maureen's doctor did set that record straight when Maureen visited him.  But Harold never realized the 'error of his ways'.
  On this reading, I was more able to understand Harold and was more sympathetic to his inadequacies. He also had experienced the death of a son and I realized that he felt helpless.  The 'pilgrimage' gave him a new look at life.  The connection with nature gave him a new perspective.  He needed to be forced out into the world, and Queenie's approaching death gave him that impetus.
  And, actually, the change in Maureen was fascinating also.  The neighbour added another lighter dimension.  I really enjoyed the book on the second reading.

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