Remember those assignments that instructed “Compare and contrast….”? Here’s a story of two tales.
Off I go, with my “don’t want to read them again” books pile to the Brockestübli in Rorschach, give those back, and stand hopefully in front of the English Language Books shelf. Less than a metre of books, but none of them ones I’ve taken back before, so that’s promising. I notice I’m holding my breath, my hands hovering in front of the row. Then I see them, separated on the shelf, but connected by title. “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”, and “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared”. In they go to my pile – along with some airport novels and – today’s surprise, an almost new copy of Virgil’s The Aeneid.
Harold Fry and the 100-year-old man are first to the deck-chair.
Well… first the similarities. Both 65 year-old Harold and centenarian Allan set off spontaneously, wearing unsuitable shoes. Harold is seized with a strange conviction that if he walks to the other end of England, in his yachting shoes, to see an old colleague who is dying of cancer, she will be saved. Allan is escaping the confines of his old folks home and municipal birthday party, in his “pee-slippers – so called because men of an advanced age rarely pee further than their shoes.” Both men accumulate travelling companions with their own reasons for being on the road and on the run from their own realities. And both, of course, have time to reflect on their lives.
But… such different men, such different lives, and such different books!
Rachel Joyce’s Harold has had a self-constrained life, full of fears and regrets, and his pilgrimage is about redemption. Joyce writes with a painful honesty about human failings and frailty – and how hope can survive. Fortunately, she can do “uplifting” without falling far into the saccharine, and the rag-tag crew who attach themselves to Harold are good for a wry smile of recognition. She seems to know about walking beyond endurance, and has some finely-turned phrases.
Jonas Jonasson’s Allan is totally opposite. His life up till his escape has been huge, in scope and adventure, without regrets or self-absorption, and resolutely a-political in the midst of every major world event he has been embroiled in. And that’s most everything! After his escape, adventure and riot continue to pursue him, and the rag-tag crew he attracts are genuinely funny and interesting characters in their own right. This was laugh-out-loud reading, to the disturbance of the Meisli at the bird-feeder and the bemusement of the neighbours for whom it was impossible to translate. Fortunately they’ve come to accept my peculiar habit of book-absorbed deck-chair afternoons, and just smile at my otherness.
So – decision. Harold will continue his pilgrimage back to the Brockestübli for the pleasure of some other seeker, but 100-year-old Allan is going to live at least another couple of years here with me.
And – next time around, I want to be Allan!
Now… it must be time for something from the re-reading shelf…..
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. Rachel Joyce, pub Black Swan 2013 ISBN 978-0-552-77904-3
“The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared”. Jonas Jonasson, pub Hyperion NY 2012 ISBN 978-4013-2464-3