I had a plan for the long drive to Namaqua. I cleverly decided to download a couple of audio books, which would naturally keep us all entertained for the 3000km plus return trip.
Genius, until you start considering my travelling companions…my teenage girls, the one of whom has read every single Diary of a Wimpy kid book she can lay her hands on, and the other one who has read Harry Potter and the Twilight books a gazillion times. Recently she has been downloading the Percy Jackson books as if the Kindle shop is running out of them (and strangely the shop is NOT running out of them…). My mom, on the other hand, is not much of a reader at all and would prefer to do intricate needlework to sitting down and reading a book.
I decided to download three books and gave the girls a choice. They immediately chose Little Women, and we were cruising.
Unfortunately, they started losing interest quite quickly. Bianca pulled out her latest Percy Jackson and Anya fell asleep. My mom seemed uninterested in keeping up with the story. Our home language is Afrikaans, and even though my mom can speak and understand English reasonably well, a nineteenth century novel was probably always going to feel like effort.
And I was starting to get very tired concentrating on the storyline…and since I was driving, that was a pretty big problem. After stopping for breakfast (and a BIG doze of caffeine) in Ventersdorp, I whipped out the iPod and turned up the tunes. And that was the end of any audio books and the start of lots of sing-alongs…
Driving to Upington, and driving the 45km to work in the mornings are a bit different though, so the other day I decided to try one of the other audio books I downloaded. I was sold, mainly because it had an overall 4 and a half star rating and won some sort of New Writer of the Year award (I am a sucker for literary works of art) and the reviews were excellent. And in addition, I love books and stories about older people (think Calendar Girls, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet…).
The book is called The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce.
It has been a long time that the prose in a book has impressed me so much. Filled with metaphors, vivid feelings and emotion and self-discovery, the story has had me in a trance on quite a few occasions. I think this book is too good not to share, and I had to download the kindle version to look up some of my favourite quotes and sayings…
Harold Fry, an old man who retired six months earlier, receives a letter from an old work colleague, who is dying of cancer. He writes her a return letter, but instead of walking to the post box as he set out to do, decides to walk halfway across England to atone for some injustice he believe he committed towards her 20 years earlier. This sets in motion an unintended pilgrimage filled with sadness and joy and revelations as he finally confronts his demons and make peace with himself.
In one chapter he encounters a very stylish man, who seeks his advise and who, to Harold’s surprise ends up with a deep, dark and painful secret of his own. Harold reflects on this meeting as follows…
Harold sat in silence. The silver-haired gentleman was in truth nothing like the man Harold had first imagined him to be. He was a chap like himself, with a unique pain; and yet there would be no knowing that if you passed him in the street , or sat opposite him in a café and did not share his teacake. Harold pictured the gentleman on a station platform, smart in his suit, looking no different from anyone else. It must be the same all over England. People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.
Harold reflecting on his journey, after leaving Exeter…
In the city, Harold’s thoughts had stopped. Now that he was back on the open land, he was once again between places, and pictures ran freely through his mind. In walking, he unleashed the past that he had spent twenty years seeking to avoid, and now it chattered and played through his head with a wild energy that was its own. He no longer saw distance in terms of miles. He measured it with his remembering.
What a beautiful book this is. I am not quite finished yet and will savour every chapter like forgotten candy over the next week or so, making my morning and afternoon drives in the Joburg traffic a bit more joyful.
What was the last book you read, that made you want to weep with joy?