Archives for posts with tag: loss

The All Good Books discussion group will meet this Thursday, August 20, 2020 on Zoom at 7 PM. We’ll discuss Ruth Hogan’s “The Keeper of Lost Things: A Novel.”

The main characters in the novel include:

Anthony Peardew: Owner of Padua and the Keeper of lost things; 68 when he interviewed Laura (several years ago).

Laura: Housekeeper at Padua, interviewed with Anthony on her 35th birthday.

Vince: unfaithful ex-husband of Laura, she met him when she was seventeen. Called himself Vince the Invincible.

Theresa: The love of Anthony’s life, deceased.

Charles Bramwell Brockley: cremation remains found in Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin

Freddy, the gardener. He had started working at Padua a couple of years prior to Laura. He was tall and dark, but not so handsome as to be a cliché. “faint scar which ran vertically between his nose and top lip.”

Felicity: Freddy’s apparent girlfriend.

Eunice: Responded to an ad to work for a publisher in May, 1974.

Bomber: Publisher and rescuer of Douglas, a crippled dog after being hit by a car.

Douglas: “small tan-and-white terrier with one ear at half-mast and a brown patch over his left eye.”

Portia: Bomber’s odious sister, wants Bomber to publish her book.

Godfrey and Grace: Bomber and Portia’s parents.

Sunshine: Laura’s new friend, age 19.

Stan and Stella, Sunshine’s parents.

The questions listed at the end of the novel include the first ten listed below with additional possible discussion questions following.

  1. “When Laura is hired by Anthony Peardew on her thirty-fifth birthday, she thinks the job “had been the perfect present, and the beginning of hope.” What does Anthony see in Laura? Why are she and Padua perfect for one another? Is Laura in some way one of Anthony’s lost things?
  2. What do you make of Eunice and Bomber’s relationship? Were you disappointed to discover that it would never be romantic?
  3. Anthony reflects that “he could not regret his life without Therese. . . . To give up when she had died would have been the greatest wrong; to throw away the gift that had been snatched from her would have been an act of appalling ingratitude and cowardice.” How does that square with his solitary life, surrounded by his lost things? Is Anthony truly living without her, or is he merely existing? What do you think he would say?
  4. Even her parents and brother seem to find Portia’s company almost intolerable. Is she in any way a sympathetic character? Does Portia evolve over the course of the novel?
  5. When she handles Anthony’s lost things, Sunshine seems to know their stories, saying, “I can feel it. I don’t think it in my head, I just feel it.” Why do you think that is? What other aspects of this story seemed touched with the magical or otherworldly?
  6. Why does Laura seem so reluctant to commit to her romance with Freddy? What was the turning point for her?
  7. What finally quiets Therese’s mischievous ghost? Was she trying to teach a lesson to the living, or did she require their help in order to find peace at last?
  8. Did Eunice do the right thing when she opened the windows of Bomber’s room? What would you have done if you were her?
  9. Which of the stories of the lost things was your favorite? Have you ever discovered a lost thing and tried to discover its owner or learn more about it?
  10. What do you think happens to the characters in this novel after it ends? What comes next in the lives of Laura, Freddy, Sunshine, and Eunice?
  11. Laura refers to “The Truth Fairy had a very suspicious nature.” Who was the Truth Fairy?
  12. What did Eunice find when she left her interview with Bomber? What’s it’s significance to the story?
  13. What’s the story behind the lost blue-sky puzzle piece?
  14. Bomber felt that “the wonderful thing about books was that they were films that played inside your head.” Do you agree? Is that always the case? Have you ever read a book then watched the movie adaption and been satisfied with both?
  15. Eunice feels sad that “the best day of her life so far had been the last day of someone else’s, and all that had separated them had been a few feet of tarmac.” What happened? Theoretically, we all know that is possible, but has it ever happened to you?
  16. The term codswallop is used several times throughout the book. What does it mean? Did you have to look it up? What’s a Ming-Mong? What’s a Dancing Drome? How do those terms appear in the novel? Were there other terms in the novel that you looked up?
  17. What had Anthony lost and why was it important? Have you ever had a similar loss? Describe it.
  18. At a point in the story, Theresa’s photo always appears face down. Why? When Laura replaces it in its upright position, she says “I hope to God you find each other,” and then wonders “to herself if that counted as a prayer.” What counts as a prayer? Who is the “each other” she refers to?
  19. Why do you think the clock always stops at 11:55 pm? If it’s a windup clock, shouldn’t the stopping time vary?
  20. Sunshine frequently refers to Anthony as St. Anthony. Who was St. Anthony and where did he come from? Did you look it up while reading the novel? Are you familiar with the Miracle Prayer to St Anthony? How does it relate to the novel’s plot?
  21. What image did you initially form of Sunshine? Was that image changed during the marriage/burial service (where she spoke during the scattering of the ashes ceremony)?
  22. Did it register that the author frequently uses alliteration in the novel? Did you find that fascinating or distracting? Too much or it didn’t even register with you?
  23. One reviewer writes, “Bomber’s sister Portia’s never-ending homages to the classics of literature are side-splitting.” Do you agree?
  24. The phrase “Where reason fails, chimera flourishes” appears in the novel. What do you think that means? How does it apply to the plot?
  25. Several of the stories of the lost items are related in the novel. Did you assume they would all tie in at some point? Did they? Were you disappointed with any of the lost object stories? Which stories “stuck” with you? Which of the characters within the novel wrote the stories behind the lost objects?
  26. Movies play a role in the novel. How? Did that add a level of meaning for you? Were you familiar with any of the movies mentioned? Which ones?
  27. What happens at the conclusion of the novel? Were you satisfied or dissatisfied with the ending? Why?
  28. Would you recommend “The Keeper of Lost Things” to a friend with similar literary interests? Would you like to read another Ruth Hogan book?

The All Good Books group will meet using Zoom at 7 PM this Thursday, July 16, 2020 to discuss The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce. It’s the sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Here’s a brief list of characters in the Queenie novel. Twenty-four possible discussion questions follow.

  • Queenie Hennessy: writer of letters to Harold Fry
  • Harold Fry: the walker whose story is told in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
  • David Fry: He likes unexpected adventure, very smart. “His intelligence is like a knife” (page 118).
  • Napier: Harold and Queenie’s boss at the brewery.
  • Finty – rubs off foil seals to see if she has won a vacation or prize or free vouchers for dining. Coordinates the party for the arrival of Harold Fry.
  • Mr. Neville Henderson – won’t do crossword puzzles, because he may not be around for the answers. “The knuckles poked out and his sleeves hung loose as if Mr. Henderson had no more substance than a coat hanger inside a dogtooth jacket. His mouth was so blue, the lips looked bruised.” He stole a Purcell record and likes Queenie. His wife Mary, hired his best friend as her divorce lawyer. They “took him to the cleaners.”
  • Barbara: Has two glass eyes, Albert Bates once loved her.
  • The Pearly King: receives packages but almost never opens them. Says a lot of women loved him, hope they don’t all come to visit. Has an artificial arm. Never told his family he was in hospice.
  • Sister Philomena: very spiritual nun at the hospice.
  • Sister Lucy: youngest nun, naive, most active of nuns in helping patients, kind, puzzles puzzle her, no idea of distance from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
  • Sister Catherine: nosey but always helps Mr. Henderson even when he doesn’t want help. Brought the word of Harold’s phone call to residents of the hospice. She brings in the mail bag each day.
  • Sister Mary Inconnu: (Inconnu means “an unknown person or thing”). Types the letters to Harold for Queenie.
  • The Lonely Gentleman: shows up in the Harold Fry story and on page 58.

Possible Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” to a friend to encourage them to read it? Would you encourage them to read it?
  2. Are there specific passages that you underlined in the book? If so, what are they? Why do they have significance for you?
  3. How do you imagine the novel be received and interpreted by a teenager? By someone in mid-life? Or by a senior?
  4. Does your view of Queenie and Harold change as you read “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy?” How?
  5. Can “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” stand on its own? Would it be understood without the reader first reading “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry?”
  6. On page 56 Queenie says, “I don’t know why some of these memories must remain so crystal clear. I recall one sliver and the whole picture comes rushing back, while other things, for instance, other things I would like to remember, are completely unavailable.” Why do you think that happens? Do you have a similar experience?
  7. Why was Mr. Henderson so upset with Sister Catherine? See page 72.
  8. Queenie’s mother told her (page 74), “There is no such thing as love at first sight. People get together because the time is right.” Do you agree?
  9. What is bindweed and why does Queenie compare Napier to it? See page 78.
  10. Does your view of Mr. Napier change at all in the second novel?
  11. What is a rockery and how does it connect with Queenie’s statement on page 94, “I’d made my sea garden to atone for the terrible wrong I had done to a man I loved, I said. Sometimes you have to do something with your pain because otherwise it will swallow you.” Do you agree?
  12. What is the color of Harold’s suit and why does the author keep referring to it (as on page 102)?
  13. What is the meaning of the lesson of the peach on page 108?
  14. “Waiting” is one of the themes in the book. What did you learn about “waiting” in the book and from life?
  15. When Sister Lucy unveils the Harold Fry corner on page 122, Mr. Henderson responds, “Good grief…this is worse than Huis Clos.” To what is he referring? Did you look it up?
  16. Sister Lucy is always removing pieces from the puzzle. Why does she keep dissembling the puzzle?
  17. Who had the more difficult pilgrimage, Harold Fry or Queenie Hennessy?
  18. On page 168 Sister Inconnu says, “The sky and the sun are always there. It’s the clouds that come and go. Stop holding on to yourself, and look at the world around you…. Those days are over too. So the only thing left for you to do now is to stop trying to fix the problem.” What’s the message in that exchange?
  19. On page 173-176, Queenie relates the story of the day when the car sputters, she and Harold are lost on the highway and must walk back to Kingsbridge. Why does she describe that as a perfect day?
  20. Queenie says (on page 200), “When you know a thing is wrong, you have to work very hard to stick with it.” What does she mean, and do you agree?
  21. On page 263 Queenie reminisces that “my mind was caught up in thinking of ways to keep it safe. I was wrong, though, about the threat coming from wind or gulls. Five years ago, something else got it.” To what is she referring? Who “got it?” And what’s the life lesson?
  22. Sister Mary Inconnu at one point (page 309) says, “Dear oh dear. We really should sit and laugh at trees more often.” What was that episode about?
  23. Share your opinion: were Queenie’s letters to Harold written in Morse code or shorthand? Explain your opinion.
  24. Besides “waiting” are there other themes throughout the book? Other lessons learned?

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?