Devon's Book for Summer

summer reading

Posted on: 1 August 2012

Produced by Transworld Publishers

Harold Fry would be the first to admit that he could have been better prepared. He had no walking boots nor map, let alone a compass or a mobile phone. The least planned part of his journey, however, was the journey itself.

Leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, Harold nipped out to post a letter. He had no idea he was going to walk from one end of the country to the other until he started.

Wrestling with his past, not to mention the weather and all manner of strangers, Harold Fry is going to walk over five hundred miles in yachting shoes. And he is going to save a life.

This is the story of recently-retired Harold Fry, who sets out one morning to post a letter to a dying friend. Quite unexpectedly, in a moment of impulse, Fry finds himself at the start of an extraordinary journey which will lead him to walk hundreds of miles from home, en route making chance encounters and reflecting on tragic events from his past which transform his life and in turn alter the lives of the people he meets. Tender, funny and heart-stopping, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has already been sold to 29 territories worldwide and looks set to be one of the most high profile debut novels of 2012.


book coverQuestions for readers

Harold’s journey is both physical and metaphorical. He is not the only character in the novel to go on a journey and Rachel Joyce has said that writing the book was in itself a journey. What other literary journeys does this novel call to mind?

Harold says he is not a religious man but his journey is called a pilgrimage and it is undoubtedly a leap of faith. How much and how consciously do you feel RJ draws on Christian tenets and/ or other belief systems in the novel?

Harold is a man with many flaws. Despite, or perhaps because of this, do you see him as an archetypal Englishman? Or is he an Everyman?

When we first meet Harold and Maureen, while they share breakfast they seem in different worlds. To what extent did you see Maureen as the cause of Harold’s departure?

The mental health of several characters is called into question in the novel. Depression, Alzheimers, addiction are all diseases that touch many of us and yet mental illness remains to a great extent taboo in our society. How is RJ using this? Do you find it effective?

Harold and Maureen are married but both are lonely. The couple Harold meets at Buckfast Abbey travel together but have also lost sight of what holds them together. What makes a marriage happy? How much is romantic happiness about being a pair and how much about other people and interests?

At the start of the book both Harold and Maureen have allowed friends to fall by the wayside. This story is all about how we all connect with one another. What makes someone a true friend and how does RJ represent friendship?

Regret is an emotion that plays a key part in the novel. Do you think RJ sees it as a positive or negative force? Is Harold’s relationship with David the inevitable result of Harold’s own upbringing?

Rachel Joyce writes beautifully about the English countryside – but how crucial to the telling of her story is the actual landscape she describes? How would it change the novel if it was set in Scotland, perhaps, or France, or..?

The sea provides bookends for the novel and plays a vivid part in Harold’s memories. Is this significant?

How does Rachel Joyce use food, and the sharing of food in the novel?

How much are Harold’s responses to his fellow pilgrims dictated by his past?

Was the ending of the novel a shock or the inevitable conclusion?

Who saves who in this novel?

Has The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry inspired you to do something out of the ordinary – take a journey? Renew contact with someone? Look at strangers with a new perspective?


Have your say on ‘Devon’s Book for Summer’

Share your views on ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ here.

All reviews posted will be entered into a prize draw at the end of the summer, with one lucky reader winning a signed copy of the book.

Views can also be shared on Twitter – follow the discussions at #devonsbooksforsummer

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