The All Good Books group will meet using Zoom at 7 PM this Thursday, June 18, 2020 to discuss The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.

There are discussion questions at the end of the novel, but since I was unaware of that, I started writing discussion questions as I read. The result is 43 questions (too many to discuss in an hour meeting). So, I’m listing the questions below, but have put ten in boldface. We can discuss whatever you wish, but the boldface questions might be a good place to start.

Discussion Questions: The Unlikely Journey of Harold Fry

  1. The girl in the garage who helps Harold warm up a hamburger says (on page 15), “You have to believe. That’s what I think. It’s not about medicine and all that stuff. You have to believe a person can get better.” What’s her story? What do you discover later in the story?
  2. The author describes the same girl in the garage while “resuming her place, in front of cigarettes and lottery tickets. Harold tried to catch her eye but she wouldn’t meet his. She had returned to being dull and empty again, as if their conversation about her aunt had never happened.” What happened?
  3. The author, on page 37, describes how the people that Harold met, “They believed in him. They had looked at him in his yachting shoes, and listened to what he said, and they had made a decision in their hearts and minds to ignore the evidence and to imagine something bigger and something infinitely more beautiful than the obvious.” What’s the meaning of that observation? Do you have a personal example of how that has occurred?
  4. Why does Harold (on page 47) untie his shoelaces when his son, David, is being swept out by a riptide? What would you have done?
  5. What episodes in the novel define who Harold is as an adult? How would you describe his character traits in a sentence?
  6. On page 48 early in Harold’s pilgrimage the author describes how, “Several cars slowed, but he waved them on, not wanting their attention.” Why won’t Harold accept a ride?
  7. The author comments that “A child’s growing [is] a constant pushing away (page 51). Agree or disagree?
  8. Elizabeth (Rex’s deceased wife) “had once confided across washing lines that his mother’s fussing had turned him (Rex) into the most appalling hypochondriac.” Is that the image you get of Rex?
  9. On page 63 Harold meets an inn keeper who complains about South Brent but then  tells him “I won a holiday to Benidorm once. All I had to do was pack my suitcase. But I couldn’t do it. They sent me the ticket in the post, and I never opened the envelope. Why is that? Why, when the chance to escape came, couldn’t I take it?” How would you respond to the inn keeper who asked that question?
  10. Harold remembers all the failures he had with his son, David. He asks himself, “Why must [I] remember?” Do you remember failures more than successes? If so, why?
  11. What was the lesson learned (pages 71-74) when Harold meets the husband and wife hikers (the woman loved Jane Austin and the husband loved hiking)?
  12. Harold describes his transition from countryside to city on page 84: “What had been so clear to him when he was alone, two feet on the ground, became lost in this abundance of choices and streets and glass-fronted shopping outlets. He longed to be back in the open land.” Which is your preference: city or country? Do you understand Harold’s distress?
  13. Is there a lesson to be learned from the “silver-haired gentleman” that Harold meets in a café and shares his teacake with Harold (on page 89)?
  14. Have you ever had an experience like Maureen has when she goes to the doctor’s office? What happened to Maureen and to you?
  15. How does Maureen initially react to Harold’s journey? Does her attitude change over time? (see page 109) How? What is she experiencing?
  16. Maureen has a dream on page 93 where she imagines that “She must remain very still and very quiet and no one must know she was nursing her entrails.” How would you interpret her dream?
  17. On page 107 Harold thinks that “If he kept looking at the things that were bigger than himself, he knew he would make it to Berwick.” What did Harold see that gave him hope? What gives you hope?
  18. How would you describe Mr. Napier (page 117)? Was he a good boss?
  19. How would you describe a Harold and Maureen’s marriage?
  20. Can harsh words ever be unsaid as suggested on page 122?
  21. As you began the book what did you think was the relationship between Harold and Queenie? How did he define friendship (page 141)? How do you define it?
  22. What was Martina from Slovenia’s story? See page 143.
  23. What was Maureen’s story? What did she mean on page 146 by “She had bleached and annihilated every waking moment of the last twenty years”? What happened 20 years ago to change everything?
  24. On page 157 the author says Harold “had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.” What are your reactions to that statement?
  25. How did Harold and Maureen first meet? Do you remember how you first met your spouse or partner?
  26. What are the major life lessons from Harold’s unlikely pilgrimage?
  27. In 3-4 sentences how would you describe the novel to a friend to either encourage or discourage them from reading it?
  28. Do you see any parallels between Harold’s unlikely pilgrimage and the life of other historical or literary characters?
  29. Was there a significance to Harold’s side trip (page 168) to the Roman baths?
  30. Harold has a “new beginning in one chapter and the (page 177) he meets the actor and the physician. What the meaning of those two chapters? Why did the author juxtaposition one after the other?
  31. What was Rex’s “plan up his sleeve” for Maureen (page 184)? Was it a good plan?
  32. On page 187, Maureen describes the current state of her relationship with Harold. She says, “I say so many things that I don’t mean. It’s as if, even if I think something nice about Harold, by the time it’s got to my mouth it’s become not nice. He goes to tell me something and I’m saying ‘I think not’ before he’s finished the sentence.” Have you ever been in a similar situation with a friend or spouse? Why do we sometimes get in that kind of rut with friends and loved ones?
  33. What was David’s problem? Could his parents have done more to help him?
  34. At one point in Harold’s journey, he starts giving away much that he has. Why?
  35. What was the result of the newspaper article about Harold’s journey? See page 209.
  36. Who is Rex? On page 211, Rex describes loss in this way: “It’s like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with, you forget it’s there and you keep falling in. After a while, it’s still there, but you learn to walk round it.” What lesson does Rex’s comment teach about loss?
  37. At one point in Harold’s journey he attracts all different sorts of followers. How did that affect the goal of reaching Queenie? What’s the lesson in that segment of his pilgrimage?
  38. Who was Rich? Kate? Wilf? Why couldn’t Harold continue his quest alone (page 238) without them and the other followers?
  39. Why do you think Maureen would not accept Harold’s offer to walk with him?
  40. On page 254, Harold expresses a belief that “there was a basic goodness to be found in everyone, and that… [he] could tap into it.” Was he able to do so? Do you share a belief in the basic goodness in everyone?
  41. On page 310, Kate says, “You got up, and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don’t even know you can get there isn’t a small miracle; then I don’t know what is.” Why is that a small miracle? 
  42. When you consider Harold’s conversation with the girl in the garage, and his final meeting with Queenie, what does the novel say about faith?
  43. Was Harold’s meeting with Queenie what you expected? How did you react to it? Would you have written a different ending?