The Unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry Book Club Discussion Questions

The Unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is available as one of the Gold Coast Libraries’ Book Club kits.

**Please be aware that book discussion questions may contain spoilers**

Synopsis: The Unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry is Rachel Joyce’s debut publication. It was Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2012. An extraordinary reflection on an ordinary life. At age 65 and newly retired, Harold lives a predictable life. He has been married for 47 years, much of his marriage has been cold and emotionless. Harold has spent his whole life bowing his head to avoid confrontation (page 81).  However despite being the quintessential courteous English gentleman, Harold cannot continue this way any longer. Rachel Joyce beautifully describes the  “English” countryside, she depicts village quaintness and married life in excruciating detail. The Unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry slowly and carefully offers glimpses and observations into humanity.

The core of the story is that one day the postman delivers a letter to Harold from his old friend Queenie. Queenie is writing to say goodbye.  Unintentionally Harold Fry embarks on an unlikely pilgrimage. A mission to save Queenie, an epic pedestrian pilgrimage with surprising cathartic revelations. This is a touching novel about beginnings, endings and starting all over again.

Discussion Questions:

1. This book is a journey on self-reflection and self realisation. What triggered Harold’s unlikely pilgrimage? Queenie’s letter?  The girl at the garage? suppressed emotions?

2. Discuss the concepts of community that occur within this novel.

3. Consider the people who Harold meets whilst on his pilgrimage e.g. the girl at the garage, Martina, Wilf, etc. How/What do you think they each contributed to the reestablishment of Harold’s outlook on life?

4.  Discuss the relationship between Harold and Maureen. How has their son contributed to their marital troubles?

5. How did Harold’s unlikely pilgrimage affect Maureen?

6. Discuss the importance of Rex.

7.  Guilt and repression are frequent themes within the novel. Discuss these topics.

8. Belief and spirituality are also prominent themes. At the commencement of his walk Harold is a non-believer, do you think this evolves and changes by the conclusion of Harold’s unlikely pilgrimage?

9. After many pages of positive evolution that Harold experiences whilst walking, when he finally reaches Queenie the reality of her condition is very confronting. Did you, the reader feel that Rachel Joyce handled the delicacy of this situation with the respect it deserves?

10. At the conclusion of this story, the reader has learned a lot about Harold Fry. Were you left wondering about Queenie Hennessy and her life? Would you be compelled to read the authors subsequent book “The Love song of Miss Queenie Hennessy”?

Helpful links:

Review on Good Reads

Publishers website – Random House Books