The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Publisher/Year: Random House, 2012
Narrator: Jim Broadbent
Length: 9 hrs, 57 minutes
What it is: Harold Fry has recently resigned himself spending the rest of his days in quiet retirement with his wife, even though their relationship has been strained for some time. One day, he receives a letter from an old friend he hasn’t seen in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is dying; she’s in a hospice and is just writing to say goodbye. He writes a reply and walks to the post office to drop it off, but instead of stopping, he keeps walking; he’s suddenly become convinced that he needs to deliver the letter to Queenie in person — if he walks those six hundred miles across England, Queenie will live.
Why I listened to it: Lots of people were raving about it last year, plus it was longlisted for the 2012 Booker.
What I thought: I’ll admit I was a little hesitant about this one at first. The guy walks? For 600 miles? And that’s…it? But no, that’s not it. Though a lot of the plot is internal (Harold does have a lot of time on his hands to think about things, after all), the novel becomes a beautiful exploration of haunting regrets and new connections. Harold knows that this pilgrimage to Queenie is illogical. She’s dying, after all, and he’s old — it’ll take ages to get to her on foot. Nonetheless, it’s a journey he needs to make. I also adore Jim Broadbent and think it was genius to have him narrate the audiobook: he’s quiet and sad and contemplative and perfect.
You might also like: Building Stories by Chris Ware because of the way it explores its character’s past.
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
Publisher/Year: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012
What it is: Rollrock Island is a beautiful, isolated place where people work hard and live modestly. But the witch Misskaella knows something no one else does: inside the seals that inhabit the island live the most beautiful women anyone has ever seen; the women can be pulled out of their seal bodies with magic. For a price, Misskaella will capture one of these women, hide her seal skin so she can’t get away, and hand her off to her eager husband-to-be. Let’s just say bad things happen when every single man on the island begins thinking with the wrong head.
Why I read it: Because Margo Lanagan. Nuff said.
What I thought: OOOOOOMG. This book is weird, cruel, unsettling, and reaaaaaally addictive. It took me a while to get into it because of the characters’ dialect. Each chapter is written from a different point of view, so it also took a while to fall into the rhythm of the book. But once I did, I couldn’t put it down. I respect Lanagan tremendously for her ability to create these ethereal worlds and tackle some of the more sinister aspects of human nature in entirely believable ways. It’s one of my favorite books so far this year.
You might also like: The Color Master by Aimee Bender since it also deals with dark fairy-tale/myth retellings.