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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Harold Fry, #1)
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message 1: by Andrew, Wound Up (new) - rated it 5 stars

Andrew Finazzo (johnyqd) | 316 comments ***Open discussion of THE WHOLE BOOK below, no spoilers needed. Be sure you have finished the book before reading any further! Note: if this is your first visit to this topic I recommend you read this post about discussion ideas, then skip down and post your initial response, then read and respond to other people's posts.***

At the very least check in here when you finish and tell us if you enjoyed the novel. I'll post specific discussion ideas below, along with the general topics we've seen repeated throughout the book.

Full Book discussions:

1) What is your opinion regarding Queenie's nurses/nuns pre-arrival communications with Harold?

2) If there was an epilogue what differences do you imagine would exist in Harold and Maureen's relationship compared to the beginning of the book?

Bonus: Illustrate the scene where Maureen is first laying eyes on Harold as he dances.

General Discussions:

1) Share your favorite quote(s) from the final section of the book.

2) Who was your favorite or most intriguing character?


message 2: by Andrew, Wound Up (last edited Nov 18, 2012 08:42AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Andrew Finazzo (johnyqd) | 316 comments Pilgrimage built up into one of my favorite books of the year! I've put off my posting a few days so I could organize some ideas better.

Nuns: Right when I finished the book I was MAD at the nuns for their neglect in giving Harold some straight talk. Now that I've cooled off I think I'm more accepting of the fact that they put their patient first.

Epilogue: Harold and Maureen renew some closeness but never re-establish a romantic intimacy. Harold corresponds with fans and the acquaintances he met while walking. In a year or so Harold starts another walk, this time raising funds for the hospice.

They hire the female publicist to keep the craziness at bay. Richard volunteers and is put in charge of security when Harold stops in larger communities. As Harold leaves he gives a wink and a nod to Maureen's unrealized affair with Rex. Maureen and Rex do become romantically involved, but both love Harold and they regularly meet up with him on his second walk.

Somewhere around Bath Wilf catches up with Harold again. Harold is much more wary about the young man, but also more aggressive in trying to impart some wisdom. As Wilf finally starts acting like an adult Harold starts to show signs of confusion...

I don't even know if that qualifies as an answer to the question or just some horrible fan-fic. I stopped before I was able to continue with a saccharine reunion between Harold and the people whose stories helped motivate him on his first journey. Must. Stop.

Quotes: I thought Dog was great, I wish he had made it all the way with Harold. When Dog was still nervous and hiding Harold thought he looked like something else Perhaps a statue of a dog. I love that visualization.

Maureen's frustation on their first visit was illustrated perfectly: She longed to show him all her colors, and here she was, a suburban shade of gray.

I was amused by Harold's musing: Without love, nothing had - what? What was the word for it? He couldn't remember. He thought it began with a V, and he wanted to say vulva, but that surely wasn't right.

And finally Maureen, eloquently cutting to a truth that many people feel but few rarely admit: "I didn't want him to find comfort when there was none for me.".

Character: In the end I think my heart reached out to Maureen the most. Harold pulled her on his journey with none of her input and in the end she travelled just as far as he did, even if she didn't have to use her feet to get there.

Overall: I'll probably write a short review which I'll post below. The gist of it will be that this is a charming story that has reality seeping in all around the edges.

My Review

Suzie | 28 comments So I flew right through section two and just finished the book. I couldn't help it. Once his pilgrims left him and he started getting confused, I couldn't stop reading until the very end. I loved it, and I think I loved it more now because I am starting to see my parents showing their age than I would have 5 years ago when they were still invincible.

I loved a lot of things about this book, but mostly how it highlighted the frailty and the beauty and the perfection that is being human. I identified strongly with the way that Harold seemed to, in the first 65 years anyway, walk through life with his eyes closed, oblivious to the humanity of the people around him. I loved that in walking Harold finally found the courage and trust it took for him to open up and talk with or listen to perfect strangers. Every stranger was a character in this story for me, even though most only got a brief mention describing their particular pecadillo, because I think thats how we are to each other. Every one of us has this interior journey that we go through every day that no one outside of us has any idea of. Every one of us has this life inside his or her head that is so much bigger (or smaller in some cases) that what the world sees, but Harold seems to learn on his journey to see the core of everyone he meets.

I think that is part of the reason why I wanted to punch all the 'pilgrims' in the face. As soon as the first one showed up, Harold lost that rose-colored filter that he had been traveling with, and seemed to stop seeing the world with such a kind eye, and that made me mad at the jerkfaces who were hopping his ride.

Of course I loved Harold, but I really grew to like Maureen as well. Though we didn't find out until the end of the book the reason why, it was so obvious that they were both in so much pain they were practically bleeding, right from the first. The first thing most people do when they are hurting is to stop communicating, and Harold and Maureen's method of communication was pretty clearly shot. The revelation of the reasons for their pain seemed so obvious once it was revealed, and yet it was concealed so well by the author that I was angry with David for not coming home to help his mother or walking out to find his dad. I love that Maureen got over it enough to find the strength to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and push Harold to the finish line before she carried him home.

I'd like to think that the epilogue was short and peaceful, involved lots of home-grown vegetables and hand-holding walks on the beach while the two of them continued to come to grips with their life together. And that Rich got run over by a lorry.

There were several quotes that I loved, most of which I forgot to mark because I was so busy reading, but here are a few:

-“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.” Sometimes when I'm standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting in a waiting room, I feel like this invisible bubble that everyone surrounds themself with starts to show cracks, and I get a glimpse into the heart of people passing by. Then I blink, and the bubble is restored.

-“The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.” Amen.

-"He was happiest like this, watching the lights come on at the windows, and people going about their lives; unobserved, and yet tender for the strangeness of others." I liked the 'tender for the strangeness of people' part...it's true sometimes. But then other times I want to punch people in the face.

-"His footprints, however firm, would be washed away by rain. It was as if he had never been in any of the places he had been, or met the strangers he had met. He looked behind, and already there was no trace, no sign of him anywhere......It wasn't simply that he had made a mess of everything...It was rather that he had passed through life and left no impression. He meant nothing." This quote reminded me of one of my favorite lines of poetry: "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the dessert air." (Thomas Grey, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard). Isn't that what scares us all? Not the actual dying itself, but the thought of leaving nothing behind to immortalize ourselves.

Illustration has never been my strong suit. I'm great at following patterns, but original art is beyond me (unless it resembles something by Jackson Pollack). But in my mind I can see the dance hall, dimly light and fugged with smoke, everyone moving around in their own little bubble of life, and I see Maureen catching Harolds eye as her own twinkle and shine, and she shivers as her spine tingles with the shock of it. If I could draw, that is what I would draw. And in my epilogue, Harold and Maureen would dance together again.

message 4: by Andrew, Wound Up (last edited Nov 25, 2012 10:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Andrew Finazzo (johnyqd) | 316 comments @Suzie - Thanks for your great post! I really liked the footprint quote too. Thanks for sharing the elegy. The pilgrims didn't bother me when they walked with Harold, but I shared your ire as Richard and others started to take advantage of his journey for apparent personal gain. I wish Dog had stayed on.

message 5: by Andrew, Wound Up (last edited Nov 28, 2012 09:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Andrew Finazzo (johnyqd) | 316 comments Michelle's submission for the bonus:

Andrew's submission for the bonus:

message 6: by Michelle, Overrun By Pets (last edited Nov 28, 2012 01:25PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle Finazzo | 225 comments I didn't have any problem with the nuns lack of communication with Harold by phone. In addition to providing care, the hospice staff should protect patient's privacy first and foremost. Since Harold is not Queenie's next of kin, the staff should not be obligated to share patient information. I think Rich and the cult followers actions and insensitivity is a perfect example of why the patient must come first in these situations. Harold's conversation with the oncologist about Queenie's letter and Queenie telling Harold in the letter that she was terminal should have been a reality check about her very poor and worsening condition.

Although Maureen and Harold had come to some level of understanding, I was uncertain of the level of Maureen's forthrightness with Harold. I was unclear if Maureen had ultimately confessed about Queenie's visit, Queenie's parting words and why she didn't initially disclose this to Harold. Maureen admitted to Harold that she had wrongly blamed him for problems with David. As a couple they were communicating more than they had for years, I'm just not sure how much faith I have in Maureen's power of reformation; "she told him all the things she had done in the past which she so regretted" didn't quite cover it for me. Maureen still has a lot of work to do, in my mind, to make things right with Harold. Ultimately I don't believe a couple of conversations can remove 2 decades of hurt and dysfunction in a relationship.

My favorite quotes: "He wished the man would honor the true meaning of words, instead of using them as ammunition."

I thought this quote summed up Harold beautifully "He smiled sadly. I can't hold the bottle and remove the lid and then not drink. I'm a postwar child, Kate. We don't talk up our achievements, and we don't throw things away. It's how we were brought up."

My favorite character in this section was a tie between Kate and Sister Philomena. Much like Harold, I grew quickly to love Kate. I enjoyed her no-nonsense communication style and her care and concern for Harold. Maybe I am just drawn to the name Philomena. She seemed calm and saintly and good in a very stressful and tumultuous part of the book.

In all, I really liked the book. The primary problem for me was the feeling that Rachel Joyce had violated reader trust by writing Maureen and David interactions in a purposefully misleading way. Subsequently attempting a back-pedaled explanation of why Maureen still talked to David post-fact did not reconcile the problem for me. I liked that the narrative was written in a simple and straight-forward manner. The characters were for the most part flushed out at the terminus and the treatment of grief and loss as a very solitary journey rang true for me. I would likely read more books by this author.

message 7: by Michelle, Overrun By Pets (last edited Nov 28, 2012 01:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle Finazzo | 225 comments @Suzie - I had no problem that the public became aware of Harold's journey and this garnered him more attention (i.e. more people wanting to help him or take his picture). Once people actually joined his journey I, like you, became very offended and angry because it seemed Harold and his mission had gone completely off course.

message 8: by Michelle, Overrun By Pets (last edited Nov 28, 2012 01:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michelle Finazzo | 225 comments @Andrew - I was also very sad about Dog. It felt like betrayal when he found another little companion at the bus stop. I also think you are on to something with Maureen and Rex, they seemed to have quite the "connection."

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