Join Rachel Joyce to talk about January's Book of the Month, THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, on Tuesday 29 Jan, 9-10pm

(222 Posts)

January is all about making fresh starts, new plans and wildly unrealistic promises. Most of us fall by the wayside within days. But not Harold Fry. The hero of our Booker-longlisted, January Book of the Month, THE PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, is a retired and unhappily married pensioner living in Devon, who receives a letter from an old friend in Berwick Upon Tweed telling him she has cancer. He writes a reply, but on his way to the postbox, he decides that this is not enough. He must walk to Berwick in person, there and then. Only this, he knows, will keep her alive. And so begins a remarkable journey through the roads, cafes, tourist centres, towns and lanes of Britain. Along the way, a cast of diverse characters support, encourage and empathise with him, eventually turning into a cult following. Meanwhile, Harold's own memories begin to bubble up, and resolve the regret and sadness that have blighted his marriage and his relationship with David, the son who dramatically left home.

An exploration of grief and regret, as well as a celebration of love, faith and hope, this is a charming, moving and peculiarly British book.

Our book of the month page has more details about THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY. You can get a paperback or Kindle edition here.

We are thrilled that Rachel will be joining us to discuss the book and answer any questions about THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, the Booker longlist and her writing career on Tuesday 29 January, 9-10pm.

Hope you can join us...

Hullygully Mon 14-Jan-13 12:27:52

sadly not in French <all literary credentials wither and die>

Clawdy Mon 14-Jan-13 12:28:52

Sorry,back to Harold

Hullygully Mon 14-Jan-13 12:34:38

yes, but many yonks ago, I did love it then, I should reread. If only there were time...

Hullygully Mon 14-Jan-13 12:36:11

I just looked it up. How scary - I don't remember ONE SINGLE solitary thing about it.

Ashoething Mon 14-Jan-13 12:39:02

I really disliked his book. Thought it was full of cliched characters and I saw the so called "twist" coming a mile off. On a positive note I can see how it would work well on radio and I can also imagine it being made into a sunday tea time series...

DuchessofMalfi Mon 14-Jan-13 17:42:49

I'm about a third of the way atm. I like it, but so far it seems to be just wistful sad memories of Harold's unhappy marriage and failed relationship with his son. Too early to see the twist coming perhaps.

Just quick response to a few posts upthread: yes, feel free to keep discussing before the discussion night, and yes, do put up questions for Rachel - am sure there'll be a way of phrasing them without giving the game away.

I found this book very slow when I began, but it gathered depth and pace as I went on, and when I reached the end I felt it added up to something far more sustaining than I initially imagined.

I also kept returning to it in my mind (again, far more than I thought I would) once it was finished. A strong contrast to Song of Achilles, where I romped through the book enjoying the fun, turned the last page and then didn't particularly give it another thought.

I suppose I'm saying that although the writing wasn't pyrotechincally extraordinary or challenging, it did affect me strongly in a slow-burn manner. Perhaps the ordinariness of it all was what moved me.

happynewmind Tue 15-Jan-13 20:02:11

I came to post where the hell was Harold getting his money from as my mum and dad are retired on good pensions and couldn't afford the hotels/bed and breakfast/meals.

Then it mentioned the retirement fund two lines later..

HellesBelles396 Tue 15-Jan-13 20:02:53

cried through last few pages. really enjoyed this book. not something I would have picked up without mn book club so thank you to whoever chose it.

currybaby Tue 15-Jan-13 20:27:56

Just finished.. It certainly picked up more and more as the book went on and I really enjoyed it overall. Have loads to say but will wait to avoid spoilers!

happynewmind Tue 15-Jan-13 22:05:39

I'm about halfway, I know it would make no story but surely if he wanted to get to her in time he could have caught the train grin

Hullygully Wed 16-Jan-13 10:54:21

Hi Rachel,

I have thought about your book quite a lot, what puzzles me is that it is an interesting idea, pilgrimage as redemption etc, but the characters are, to me, less than fully realised. Harold is a bit more drawn, but Maureen is a cardboard cut out and I have no picture of her at all. She exists solely in relation to Harold's redemption. You may of course disagree!

I wonder if this is because of radio, or because Harold is to stand as an everyman? Or both?

Did the idea come before the characters? It feels more idea driven than character.

HellesBelles396 Wed 16-Jan-13 12:25:49

I thought the lightness of tone was akin to the way that one belittles things that happen in ones own life that would leave one aghast if recounted from someone else's life.

whatphididnext Thu 17-Jan-13 08:40:59

Hi Rachel.
I really enjoyed your book, thank you. I am looking forward to reading your next one.

I love stories that illustrate the quiet desperation of ordinary lives.

I thought your use of the net curtains in relation to Maureen was clever.

Why did you not expand more on Rex's situation? I felt there was enough there to have his story running parallel with Harold's story.

DuchessofMalfi Fri 18-Jan-13 10:51:18

I finished reading the book last night. I liked it, but didn't love it. I didn't see the twist coming at all. I was miles off, pondering whether Queenie was going to turn out to be Harold's sister after all and he'd never known grin grin.

Anyway, I thought that Harold's reasons for his pilgrimage were rather flimsy to begin with but which deepened as his journey progressed. Perhaps that is, in essence, what a pilgrimage is - a time for personal reflection.

I felt the novel wasn't just about Harold's journey. We saw Maureen gradually discover more about herself, come to terms with her grief, and learn to move on. In some ways, she had the greater emotional journey, to return to the love of her husband.

My question for Rachel Joyce is, as it is a novel essentially about personal reflection, do you think that would translate well into film or do you think that it's meaning would be lost?

DuchessofMalfi Fri 18-Jan-13 10:52:37

Its, not it's - oops blush

gazzalw Fri 18-Jan-13 19:42:10

Right, I've started and already intrigued. It starts in such a mundane way but I can see that it's going to build to something.....

It seems quite an easy read thus far so think I should have it read by the 29th....

Don't tease me with talk of a twist otherwise I will be tempted to read reviews and Google and spoil it for myself!

hippoCritt Sat 19-Jan-13 13:19:47

I waited for ages to get this book from the library then I was so disappointed when reading it, I perservered and I am glad I did, would not claim it as one of my favourite books but I'm glad I read it.

happynewmind Mon 21-Jan-13 12:49:23

I am also glad I read it but I feel the same, it was not my favourite book, I thought they could have expanded on the other characters, Rex and those he met on his journey or the Pilgrims more and especially on the nurse who took him into her home and obviously had an interesting story.

There were pages I skimmed through because it was a bit samey, similar to what Hully said with the walk walk blister hint walk walk comment.

I thought the idea of the story was good but there were silly bits for me that spoiled it. He apparently did not have time to sleep/eat because he wanted to carry on but then the next minute he is spending his time looking round places and shops in the city.

I understand why he became attached to his shoes at the end but at the beginning he wasn't and he was buying items for the journey he had money for shoes.

gaelicsheep Tue 22-Jan-13 22:51:15

Oh dear, got up to 13 January and sensed spoilers coming so I can't join in yet sad. About 3/4 of the way through just now. This is my first Mumsnet Bookclub thread, quite exciting!

gaelicsheep Wed 23-Jan-13 00:36:08

Ok, ready to join now. First impression, a book written with Sunday evening drama adaptation in mind. Bill Nighy or John Cleese as Harold perhaps? Jim Broadbent or similar as Rex? Throw in that Daisy woman as one of the hangers on - get my drift? That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but it didn't live up to its initial promise. Too gentle and plodding really, too many possible avenues not explored.

HellesBelles396 Wed 23-Jan-13 09:49:36

I agree that it was a gentle book but I found it all the more moving for that. I would hate to see it adapted. Would they even be able to do it - so much is internal.

Thank you to everyone who has posted questions so far - just a reminder to others that we'll be sending over the advance questions to Rachel at the end of the week, so do keep posting them here...

Interesting contrast between this month's book and next month's (Gone Girl: also about a marriage on the rocks, opposite end of spectrum in terms of pace...)

gazzalw Wed 23-Jan-13 16:25:02

I have found this quite a discomforting read in some ways. Not at the end yet so will post questions/further comments when I have finished (should be by the weekend). It is gathering momentum for me as a read just as Harold did in his walk....

currybaby Wed 23-Jan-13 16:32:50

gaelicsheep that's not at all how i imagined rex - more a little neat man smile

I actually liked all the bits about how he was walking along. It made it easier for me to picture where he was and how the scenery changed as he got up north.

I loved the fact that Harold had done this in time to recover from his depression/what he was going through and have a good retirement with the lovely Maw!

I have a question, but its a complete spoiler. How do I do that? Can I message you directly tilly? I do hope to make the chat on the night though.

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