Tag Archives: Rachel Joyce

Book Club Reflection: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

2 Feb

The best thing about book clubs is that sometimes it helps you like a book you hated. Thankfully, this happened to me last week when my book club met to discuss The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I wasn’t moved by the book because I didn’t connect with the characters but knowing how much some of my fellow readers sympathized with the characters made me appreciate the writing more.

(This post contains spoilers. Please proceed with caution. We used the questions in the back of the book to guide our discussion. If your copy doesn’t have these questions, you can find them on LitLovers.)

We all thought the author was trying to say a lot about the human condition. Personally, I thought she was trying to say too much, but that wasn’t the popular opinion. The majority of our group really liked this book and though Joyce had an incredible understanding of her characters and what they were going through. Only one member thought the ending seemed contrived but most of us found it fitting and we liked how we slowly got more and more about David.
The letter that Harold writes to the garage girl on page 284 really broke our hearts. We feel bad for him because of how taxing his journey is, but to realize what emotional baggage he’s dragging around with him makes it even harder.

We had one new member this month who had an amazingly similar story to that of Harold. She shared with us that her son had hung himself when he was 19 and told us how she dealt with it as a parent. She said she related to the existential trauma that Harold went through because her sense of meaning was greatly disturbed. Luckily, this woman was able to talk about what she was going through and it helped her to avoid the extended trauma that Harold was suffering from. She said that her husband had reacted more like Maureen and wanted someone or something to point a finger at and blame. Their different reactions to the trauma unfortunately caused their marriage to fail. This woman went on to become a social worker and I was awed with her emotional strength and awareness. I’d like to think I could be so strong in the face of something so terrifying, but I’m afraid I might fail. It was an honor to hear her story. Hearing that someone related so well to Harold is part of what made me like the story more.

There are not many things that could encourage me to do what Harold did and that sense of unlikelihood is part of what I didn’t like about the story. A few people talked about something that could make them go through that journey. Many of us thought about a charity that we’re invested in for personal reasons, but in many cases money seems to be a better donation. Someone brought up another ‘pilgrimage after tragedy’ example. A step-son of one of our members is soon to lose his wife to a disease. He thinks that once she’s gone, he’s going to need to be with himself for a long time. He plans to hike the Appalachian Trail for a few months. Putting Harold’s walk in a similar context makes it more logical to me. The step-son needs to be alone to think about what he’s experienced and come to peace with it internally without the noise of the rest of the world holding him back. Harold needed the same thing but it was delayed more than it should have been.

Maureen was bearing the burden of David’s death alone because Harold was unable to talk about it. Being able to talk to Rex finally helped her feel free. She was very lost and didn’t seem to know how to deal with her experience. She needed Rex to take charge of her recovery process. In the same vein, Rex needed to take charge of something to deal with the loss of his wife. They had a very beneficial relationship. They both healed by knowing that someone else had gone through a trauma like their own.

Harold was attached to a lot of memories of David. The one he continued to return to was when David almost drowned at the beach. His inability to save his son from drowning made him feel like a failure as a parent. Someone pointed out that Harold was incapable of being spontaneous enough to jump in the water. He’d had to over think things for so much of his childhood that it couldn’t be taken out of his personality. If he was going to get in the water, he had to follow process and take his shoes off. He was still trying to save his son but he went about it the only way he knew how.

On page 313, there’s this line about Queenie’s last breath,

Queenie parted her lips, hunting for the next intake of air. And when it didn’t come, but something else did, it was as easy as breathing.

It wasn’t hard for Queenie to let go but it was very challenging for Harold we decided that leaving his home was him finally starting to let go and that the walk was the process.

David’s death affected Harold and Maureen separately and their relationship together. They seemed to retreat into their individual selves when David died, but we wondered if the two of them had retreated from the world before that. It seems possible that they were not a very outgoing couple. When Maureen took the curtains down at the end of the book, it seemed to make her younger and she seemed ready to embrace the world. We wondered if this was the first time she’d done that or the first time since David had died. I don’t think we ever came to a satisfactory answer.

It seems such a simple thing for Maureen to tell Harold that Queenie stopped by before leaving town but she was an angry woman. If she was mad at him for being drunk or blamed him for David’s death, we never know. Likely it’s a combination of both. We wondered if Maureen worried that Harold and Queenie were intimate with each other. Maybe she was jealous of another woman. Or maybe she was jealous that her husband had someone to talk to about David’s death while she was alone.

Maureen carried a lot of anger with her but we couldn’t decide if it came about at David’s death or not. It seemed to be something that might have resulted from the drowning incident or earlier. She used Harold as a scapegoat so that her anger wasn’t as widely spread, but we couldn’t find the source of what turned her from an eager bride into a bitter woman.

For those that thought her anger came about after David’s death, we started to feel bad for her when we learned about the suicide. We thought for a long time that she was on the phone with David and we denying Harold the right to speak with his son. Joyce very artfully unfolded the true situation so that we’d feel sympathy for her characters.

One of our questions asked us why Harold chose to live off the land and the kindness of strangers. We think he realized that others felt good when they helped him. They found him vulnerable, even if he didn’t think he was, and took a sense of pride in helping him. He’s been alone so long that exposing himself to the whole country was very liberating. Most of his journey was based on ‘put good in, get good out.’ He thought if he put in the effort to save Queenie, she would be saved. He also felt that if he wasn’t out to hurt anyone, he wouldn’t get hurt. He thought the universe would help him if he helped Queenie. He needed to learn to receive from other to heal. This wasn’t likely the best way to handle this lesson, but Harold wasn’t the most logical of people.

Many of the people Harold met on his journey were not given names. Many of these people were uncomfortably honest with Harold about what was going on in their lives and that’s easier to do with a stranger. The things they said were what Harold remembered even if he was told their names. There were the cycling moms and as their defining characteristic, that’s how Harold remembered them. What more would he need?

I had not thought about the Christian allegory in this book until a member point it out. It was obvious to him, but I never got wise to it. Harold gathers followers (disciples) around him as he goes about the country and instilling faith in the people around him. He wanders the English countryside (desert) for 40 days. He’s betrayed by his followers. He goes off on his own to be alone and cleanse himself (pray). It seems so obvious to me now!

The followers also reminded us of the runners who followed Forrest Gump. Forrest and Harold had their own reasons for wanting to go on their journey and other people followed for their personal reasons, not the same ones that drove Forrest or Harold. And in both, the media capitalized on the journey. Hm.

Wilf was the most interesting person in Harold’s group of followers in my opinion. He was a kleptomaniac and even though his habit hurt Harold, Harold hid it for him. This reminded us of how Harold would hide David’s drinking, just sweeping it away. If they never talked about it, it never happened. Harold must have felt that if he saved Wilf and protected him, it was like protecting David. Though now that we know how that ended, it probably wasn’t for the best.

I asked the group about the things Harold bought along the way. They seemed random to me and some of them were heavy and breakable (I’m thinking of the honey in particular). What would compel him to carry these things around the countryside with him? In the end, Queenie liked the quartz and if she’d been more in her right mind, she might have enjoyed all of them but I still don’t understand the burden he placed on himself for these items.

Toward the end, a lot of us feared Harold was dying. His state was deteriorating and he seemed to be confused. I knew he had to be okay because the cover image on our copy had a man and woman walking on the beach. I figured that the man was Harold but didn’t know until the end if the woman was Queenie or Maureen. It seemed a little far-fetched that it would be Queenie after all of the trouble Harold went through but it also seemed a bit unbelievable that Harold and Maureen could patch things up so cleanly. The social worker in our groups said it would be very unusual for their marriage to survive and thrive after what they’d gone through in the book. A few people thought their marriage might deteriorate after they went back home. As much as I want them to be happy, I do have to admit it seems unlikely that it will happen.

 So there you have it! A great discussion that helped turn my opinion on this book. I’m so glad I went to the discussion. Our next book is Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat and I’m really enjoying it so far.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2/5)

13 Jan

If you’ve read my blog, you’ve seen the ups and downs of Book Club selections. Well, this is a down. This book club is more hit-or-miss than some other ones I’m involved in but this book was rough to get through, though the ending redeemed it a bit. Almost.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Summary from Goodreads:

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live.

I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book. It didn’t appeal to me at all and I had trouble relating to any of the characters, which made for a very forced read. I was happy when I finished it only because I could start something else. I think this book would appeal to people older than myself, maybe 40+, who have more experience with marriage and children growing up, but I’m not at a point in my life where this book appealed to me.

I thought Harold and Maureen were just a bit off. Harold didn’t seem to have any common sense at times and other moments, he would seem completely sane. Maureen admitted to talking to herself on a regular basis. I felt like they were cartoons of real people at times and it felt odd to me as a reader. I was caught between laughing and feeling bad for them at the same time and it was somewhat uncomfortable.

I liked Harold enough for the first half of the book, but I started feeling bad for him in the last bit of the book and it made me like Maureen more. I felt bad for Harold and I liked Maureen for her concern and care. I don’t think either character was likable for the entirety of the book and there are very few other characters from which to pick a favorite.

Part of why I disliked this book so much was that the characters are so far removed from myself. I’ve never lost someone close to me and I don’t know how it feels to nurse a memory for twenty years. I felt bad for them, but I couldn’t relate.

Rachel Joyce Image via The Guardian

Rachel Joyce
Image via The Guardian

I liked the ending. I thought it was fitting and brought the book together nicely. I liked that Queenie wasn’t what Harold had imagined all that time and I liked how much of a struggle he had to go through to get to her. It was appropriate and nothing felt contrived. However, I don’t think it made up for how rough it was for me to get through this book.

The middle dragged too much in my opinion. Harold was walking and meeting people and that was great, but I didn’t see where it was going. Did every person he met move him or change him? I don’t really think so. I think it could have been shortened or cut. The beginning was interesting because he was doing something so unusual and the end was interesting because there was action and resolution. But the middle? It took some effort for me to get through it.

Harold’s story was one about new beginnings, forgiveness, and thanks. He and Maureen were able to re-kindle their marriage in a way it desperately needed. They had suffered a great tragedy and it had torn them apart in a way that only something drastic could save. It’s odd that that drastic measure had to be walking across the country, but I’m glad they could reconcile. Harold had to forgive himself for the kind of father he had been. It seemed to me that he wasn’t that bad of a father, but he didn’t know how to be a great one while Maureen seemed to know what to do to be a great mother. If Maureen was a great mother and something went wrong for David, it had to be Harold’s fault. I don’t exactly agree with this, but I believe this is how Harold felt. The purpose of the whole walk was to say thank you to Queenie. She had lost her job for Harold and he’d never had the chance to say thank you, something he obviously let eat away at him for a long time. His walk was a physical act of thanks as he felt the sacrifice and toll on his body that he was going through would keep her alive and even heal her. When he arrived, he was able to thank her in person. I think arriving at his destination was a baptism for Harold that washed him free of his past guilt.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think this book was well written for its audience; I just happen to not be that audience. The book tells a very specific story that has a lot of universal appeal. Harold has regrets, as does Maureen, and wants to atone for them. That’s a universal problem. It’s a shame that this book wasn’t for me at this point in my life because I’m really unable to point to anything flawed in the story or writing style. Well, except the slow middle. That’s really all I could say against it.

This was a rough go for me because I was uninterested in the characters. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Book Review: ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce | Hynd’s Blog
Novel Review: “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce | Ana’ Fiches de Lectures
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce | time2tome

WWW Wednesday, 31-December-2014

31 Dec

Time for MizB’s WWW meme yet again! Everyone getting ready for that new year? I’ve got progress and it’s looking like a good push into 2015.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  No progress on The Domesday Book by Connie Willis. On hold.
The audiobook on my phone is still California by Eden Lepucki. I made a small bit of progress on this but I think I’m going to put it aside for the audiobook I checked out from the library. It’s really failed to grab my attention.
My husband and I started listening to The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway during our car trip, but we had so much to talk about that we didn’t even get through the third disk. I’m thinking this one might take a while.
I got a new phone-book as well, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This has been the top book on my TBR for a long time so I was excited to snag it, but the first few pages haven’t grabbed my attention yet. I’m without a physical book at the moment so I might invest some time in this to see how I like it.

Recently finished: Would you even believe I finished three books this week?! Yes! Three. I’m so proud of myself. I finished Ready Player One by Earnest Cline on Christmas Eve before leaving for my in-laws. I was so geeked to finish this one, I really enjoyed it. I also finished The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I sneaked away to finish this Christmas day, more to get it over with than anything. Because I was so excited to start Attachments by Rainbow Rowell which I finished yesterday. What a great week for reading!

And reviews! I’ve posted a review for John Green’s Paper Towns so check that out, too!

Reading Next:  My hold for The Diviners by Libba Bray came in and it’s in my car. If I’m ever driving alone I’ll start it, but that might not happen before I go back to work!
The book for my next ‘Read Along With Me’ has been chosen! We’ll be reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. If you’re interested in reading this book along with an on-line book club, send me an email and I’ll count you in! You can read more about my Read Alongs here. We’ll start in early January.
I’m deciding if I want to pick the next book off of my pile. It’s in Spanish and will take me a while to get through, but I think it will be worth it. It’s La Sombra del Viento by Carlos Luiz Zafon (The Shadow of the Wind) which I’ve heard wonderful things about. Let’s see if I’m brave enough!

I’ve got half a week left of vacation and I wonder if I’ll get through anything else. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Friday 56, 26-December-2014

26 Dec

Welcome to the I’m in Ohio edition of The Friday 56 hosted by Freda on Freda’s Voice. Head on over there and check out the other participating blogs.

Friday 56

The way this meme works is pretty simple. If you want to join in, head over to Freda’s blog and add your link.

Rules:
*Grab a book, any book (I grab the one I’m currently reading)
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.

My recent physical book is one for my book club that I’m not really enjoying, but am determined to get through. It’s called The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Here’s a quote from page 56:

He had never walked so far in a day but he had covered eight and a half miles and he was hungry for more.

The premise is that Harold is walking the length of England, covering about 8 miles a day. This quote is from the beginning of his journey, when it’s all going well. I’ll let you read to see how it starts to go later on.

Shameless plug: If you’re interested in joining an on-line book club, my Read Along With Me #3 is starting soon and I’d love to have some more readers. We’re going to be reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and will start in January. Send me and email if you’re interested!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 24-December-2014

24 Dec

Time for MizB’s WWW meme yet again! And a very merry book Christmas to you all! Unfortunately, there’s no change here for books this week. Reading fail.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I’m still on hold to renew The Domesday Book by Connie Willis. This will take a while…
I’ve been working through Ready Player One by Earnest Cline at a good pace. I’m enjoying the story, though there’s a bit more info dump than I would like, but it’s good.
The audiobook on my phone is California by Eden Lepucki though I’m thinking of putting it aside again because my next audiobook just came in at the library and this one is really boring me.
I’m trudging through The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I feel like my progress through this book is as slow as a retired man walking the length of England but without any kind of adventure whatsoever. I’ll fight to the finish!

Recently finished: Well, this is awkward. Nothing. But I did put up two reviews (go me) so check out These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

Reading Next:  I was handed a copy of Attachments by Rainbow Rowell on Monday. I hope to devour it over the Christmas holiday!
My hold for The Diviners by Libba Bray came in and I picked it up yesterday. I’m trying to determine if this book is worth abandoning California for a little bit longer.
I’m also in possession of the audiobook for The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I’ve been wanting to read this one since I read The Paris Wife and the road trip my husband and I are making to Cincinnati for the holidays is the perfect excuse.
The book for my next ‘Read Along With Me’ has been chosen! We’ll be reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. If you’re interested in reading this book along with an on-line book club, send me an email and I’ll count you in! You can read more about my Read Alongs here.

I’m off work for the year and it’s time to power through my big pile of books. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 17-December-2014

17 Dec

Time for MizB’s WWW meme yet again! My book finishing rush is continuing with TWO again this week! Woosh.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  My ebook is still The Domesday Book by Connie Willis. It’s still on hold… and will be for a while… so…
I checked out another one, Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. So far, so good. I’m only a bit into it, but I’m enjoying the story a lot.
One audiobook on my phone is California by Eden Lepucki and I’m back to it with a vengeance, trying to get it done this year. I should be able to, especially with all the time I spend cooking/listening to audio this time of the year.
I’ve just started The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which is a book club selection for January. I’ve heard good things but I don’t have really high expectations.

Recently finished: Two! Last night I finished The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and man, was it engrossing. I’m really glad I got to read this book and I’m looking forward to the discussion.
I finished Paper Towns by John Green while making cookies on Tuesday and I’m sad to say it wasn’t for me. I’ve read two of John Green’s other books (TFiOS and Alaska) and this one just didn’t cut it for me. Look for a review soon.

I’ve been able to put up a review of The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver so please check that out and let me know what you thought of the book.

Reading Next:  I’m waiting for the work book club selection, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. I should have it over Christmas to devour it.
I also have a new audiobook on hold at the library, The Diviners by Libba Bray. My book-club moderator recommended this to me about a year ago and I’m excited to finally get my hands on it.
There’s one more book, TBD, that I’ll be reading soon with my on-line Read-Along book club. We’re currently picking a book to read next. If you want to join in, send me an email and vote below for the book we’ll read!

I can see the finish line of the year and it looks like a pile of books. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 10-December-2014

10 Dec

Time for MizB’s WWW meme yet again! And I’ve finally hit that rush of finishing books I’ve been anticipating for a while. Two this week! TWO!

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  My ebook is still The Domesday Book by Connie Willis. And to make my life more awesome, I don’t have it checked out any more. It’s going to be a while before I get to read it again, so this is on hold.
One audiobook on my phone is California by Eden Lepucki and which I’ve put on hold. I need to stop making that a habit! It’s okay and I intend to finish it… soonish.
I’ve begun The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood for a book club and I’m really enjoying it so far! It’s a great dystopian conversation that’s scary and unbelievable yet realistic. Creepy is probably a good way to say it.
I’m activly listening to Paper Towns by John Green checked out as an e-audiobook. I’m not super far into it yet, but I’m hoping to get through it fast as this is now my main audiobook.

Recently finished: I finished Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett on audio yesterday. It. Was. Amazing! I’m so glad I made it through this story though it might be a while before I’m brave enough to pick up the sequel!
I’ve also finished These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner. And with that I’ve finished my own When Are You Reading? Challenge. Yay! Nothing like fulfilling your own standards to pump you up.

I’ve also put up a review of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri which was amazing and you should all read immediately.

Reading Next:  I’ve got two in the queue now: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. This is for a book club that meets in January so I’m feeling a slow read of this one. The other is for my free-form work book club and we’re reading Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. I don’t know how to describe how excited I am about this. One woman finished it in less than a week, which is quick for us! We might be talking about this before Christmas holiday!

School ends on Friday and I plan to drive home and read all evening with a glass of wine to celebrate. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!