Monday, August 26, 2013

Discussion: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

A first for me as a Book Blogger, Helen from Fennell Books and I live in the same small town and attend the same book club.  Last year we both read The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and when it came up as a book club read a couple of months ago we decided to get bloggy with it and collaborate...

Harold Fry was Helen's favourite book of last year, and I loved it too. You can see Helen's post hereSo, join us, pour yourself a G&T/wine/diet coke/your tipple of choice... and read on.  
Be warned, spoilers ahead!

H: So, was it better on the second read? I got a lot more from it the second time around.

L:  Definitely.  I think that it's one of those rare books that you could read again and again and always see something more with each reading.  A bit like watching a murder mystery and knowing who the killer is, seeing the clues you missed before.

H: I was wondering whether Queenie wrote to lots of people she knew to tell them her sad news, or whether it was just Harold. She clearly still loved him  I got the impression that Queenie was as isolated as Harold in her own way, so I couldn't see her writing to anyone else. I confirmed this when 
met Rachel Joyce at a Mr B’s event. She sad that Queenie had been very lonely all of her life.

H: Do you think that Harold and Queenie would have had a good relationship if they'd been together?

L: At first I did, but then as I thought about it Harold and Queenie were too similar.  Harold would have appreciated the quiet contented life with Queenie, but I don't think he ever had that mad rush of love with her that he had with Maureen.

H: Did you have a favourite part? 
I thought the parts when a small crowd joined him and they set up a Facebook page and sponsors appeared was very clever, and I can see that really happening. It was a clever contrast to the idea of this somehow being a "spiritual" journey for Harold.

L: The crowds and publicity, facebook page etc... was absolutely believable and inspired (though a little horrifying too), though I think my favourite part was everything after Harold finally reaches Queenie, even though that's the most heartbreaking part of the story, it's also the most uplifting too.  Is it weird to enjoy having your heart broken by a book?

I was a little puzzled by Harold's wife's response. She just let him go, and didn't seem concerned at all. I know their marriage was in a poor state, but it seemed odd to me.

L: I thought her strange too.  At first my impression was that she saw Harold as someone who just sort of shuffles through life never really doing anything significant or having an impact on the world around him, I don't think she ever expected him to actually commit to doing something like this and seeing it through to the end.  I think she expected him to give up when it got difficult and go home to sit at the table and be in her way.  I saw the Litlovers questions online and one of them suggested the idea that Maureen did not want to acknowledge that Harold might be walking away from his life as much as he was walking toward Queenie.  I think that was pretty insightful.

H: What did you think about the reveal of the fate of Harold's son? I wasn't surprised that the relationship had gone wrong. Harold had a poor upbringing in the sense of any close emotional support and so I got the impression he simply didn't know how to love. Perhaps Queenie could have been the one to show him how to care for another person, but he missed his chance. Maybe walking to see Queenie was Harold's way of learning.

L: I was so upset as all the way through Joyce had hinted that David and his mother were talking and I thought there would be a chance they would make up and build a healthy relationship.  Harold's inability to deal with negative emotions and conflict and David's attitude created a vicious escalating circle and I don't know if either could have saved the situation.  I think you're right about Harold's walking to Queenie was his way of learning, just sadly far too late for David.

L: I was a little underwhelmed by the amazing thing that Queenie had done for Harold in the past, what did you think?  From the way that Harold recalled it I was anticipating that she'd saved his life, or given David a kidney or something.  What she did was awfully generous and nice of her, but I can't help thinking that not working for Napier would be a good thing for Queenie.  I can't blame Harold for doing what he did, and would probably have done exactly the same thing far sooner.  I am very glad he had that outburst, metaphorical fist-bumps all around.

H: How many tissues did you need at the end? 
I cried buckets. It was so sad, but also so full of hope.

L: First time I read the book I read it nearly to the end without a tear and then he reached Queenie and I couldn't stop crying, seriously sobbing.  Second time around I had sad moments all the way through, since I knew what had happened to them in the past.

L: I remember you mentioning a Guardian article and revealing that Joyce wrote the book while her father was dying of cancer.  That suddenly made everything seem more intense somehow.  Also even more sad.  I know that you attended an author chat with Rachel Joyce recently (sooo jealous), did she say anything else about the story that would be good to know, or was it mostly about her new book?

H: There was a session about Harold Fry and then another session about Perfect, her new book. We talked about who might play Harold in a film version. David Jason was mentioned, but I am not sure he is “shuffley” enough…

I hope you enjoyed reading our discussion, here's hoping we can do some more from time to time!

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