Although confused at first by quite what the author intended for Harold (was he really going to walk to Berwick-Upon-Tweed in his yachting shoes?!) I quickly grew to love his character and connected with so many of the themes in this book. It really does seem to be a book that asks many questions without giving many answers - which is what Harold seems to do throughout his walk as he ponders the twists and turns his life and relationships have taken. He is a stoical, composed character who does something completely unexpected when faced with the death of someone who played an important part in his past life.
His walk to Berwick on Tweed to keep Queenie alive takes on both moral and spiritual significance as he struggles with the reality of loss and death in life. His broken relationships with his son and wife show how despair and loneliness have pervaded his character until he no longer really relates to anyone. His memory of Queenie pushes him forward to Berwick -of how she was interested in him and used to talk to him during car journeys, how they connected over a similar feeling of 'not belonging' in the office, how she sacrificed her job and career to cover for him. His walk is certainly an awakening for him as he ponders and remembers memories from his own childhood, of how he met Maureen, of their marriage and his relationship with his son. I cried with him as he called out for his son. I cried with him over his desperation and despair as he finally gets to Berwick and realises he can't stop Queenie dying.
The author touches heavily on themes we don't really talk about in our society - death, guilt, blame. Perhaps it is because we feel as despairing as Harold on these issues that we don't approach them. It is easier not to think about them at all if we have no answers. Harold's reconciliation with Maureen was a very welcome last section to the book - giving some hope that his life (and hers) might hold some happiness for them - but still uncertainty about how long that would last. As there is for all of us.
There is a rawness to Harold's emotion that can't be hidden or resolved. Because death - of his son, of Queenie - and broken relationships - with his Mum and with Maureen, although ever present with us, were not meant to be. We are angry, scared and hurt by death, guilt and blame because these are not things that we were meant to experience. As a Christian I can't pretend to not be terrified of dying and of others around me dying, but I can trust and remind myself constantly that God has planned through history to restore life to what it should be - without death or tears or mourning - and that He did this through Jesus. I think that if I read this book without this hope I would despair - but with Jesus I can celebrate each day of life as a gift and look forward to a future without these things that I fear so much.