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Book Club Kits: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

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. A novel of charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.

Read an excerpt from the novel.

Discussion Questions

  • Talk about the obvious—why Harold Fry never returns from the mailbox. Is he experiencing a mid-life crisis, or spiritual crisis...or what? Has anything like that ever happened to you—a snap decision that turned out to be not just of-the-moment, but momentous as well?

  • What is the significance, thematically, of Harold's yacht shoes?

  • "Life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time." One of the themes in Unlikely Pilgrimage is how a seemingly ordinary life can take on extraordinary aspects. Do you consider your own life ordinary or extraordinary? In what way might we see our own lives or, say the lives of our neighbors, as remarkable?

  • How has Harold's past—his upbringing—shaped his adult life, especially his relationship with his wife and son?

  • Talk about the evolution of Harold Fry. What is his state of mind as he begins the journey, and how does he change during his long walk? What does he learn—about life and about himself?

  • Discuss the marital relationship, at the book's beginning, between Harold and Maureen. Maureen wants to believe that Harold's desertion has more to do with Queenie than with the state of the couple's marriage. Is she right...or not?

  • Why do couples continue in a relationship that no longer seems to fulfill a mutual need for either?

  • Describe Harold's relationship with his son, David.

  • What was Harold's relationship with Queenie...and in what way does he feel he betrayed her?

  • What does the waitress mean when she tells Harold that "if we don't go mad once in a while, there's no hope"? Have you ever felt like that?

  • What role does religious belief play in this novel?

  • What is Rachel Joyce satirizing as crowds begin to gather and Harold's journey becomes a cause celebre—with its t-shirts, Tweets, and Facebook posts? How do the people who join Harold in his trek see his journey—what are they looking for, or what do they expect from Harold? Why do the crowds eventually leave him behind?

  • What do Harold and Maureen come to understand about one another and marriage—and how does their marriage change? What do they come to realize about one another?

  • Why is Harold's journey called a "pilgrimage" in the title?

  • What is the relationship between the epigraph from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and this contemporary novel? Why does Rachel Joyce use Bunyan's book at both beginning and end?

  • Do you find the novel's end satisfying? Why or why not?

Book Trailer

An Interview with Rachel Joyce