My rating: 3 of 5 stars
eh, it was ok.
retiree Harold decides one day that rather than post a letter, he’s going to walk to its intended recipient. 500 miles away. there is no equipment scene–he just gets to the end of his lane, and keeps on walking.
it’s a great set-up, really. so many questions leap to mind–why is he doing this? can he make it at his age? is he going to make it in time?
and our Harold is emotionally a rather fragile guy under the surface. so the next question that comes up is whether he’s gonna crack up on the way.
one of the facts of Harold’s life that we keep being reminded of is that he’s never done anything with his life–never tilted at a windmill, never rocked a boat–only got married, had a kid, and worked at a brewery. and while this is part of the conceit of the book, it seems also to have, unfortunately, been true.
because really, Harold is pretty boring. that’s the biggest downfall of the book.
toward the end, we get in flashback the events that busted up Harold’s once happy-enough life into the 20-year monochrome of his days before setting out. by then it seems rather too late, because there wasn’t enough of Harold before the 20-year slump. if it were a graph, Harold’s happiness and interest would, on the whole, stay pretty flat toward the x-axis over the span of his life.
on the walk, Harold does disintegrate in some rather harrowing ways, and those parts are interesting and well-done. but again, too late to really make me feel for him.
on a total side note, and proving that readers bring their own obsessions to a book, one thing i could not bear was that the man simply wouldn’t put on some decent footgear. every description of his blisters and his tortured feet just made me angry at him–get a decent pair of fucking hiking shoes, dude!
the other thing that irked me was that throughout the book, Harold keeps telling everyone who’s amazed at his journey that anyone can do it, just put on your shoes and go. and you know, that’s just not true. women can’t just put on their shoes and go without acknowledging that they’re putting themselves in physical danger, and not just from lorries and thistles, but from men.
anyway, my obsessions aside… not a bad book, not a great one.