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The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry


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#1 vodkafan

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 09:10 AM

Welcome to the July Reading Circle discussion.

"It is assumed that you have read the book before reading posts in this thread, as the discussion might give away crucial points, and the continuous use of spoiler tags might hinder fluent reading of posts."

Hopefully we have all had time to read and digest the book, which I for one found a very satisfying read! Anybody who has not read the book as yet is welcome to join in at a later date. 

Here are the usual questions to kick off discussion with, and a few I added:

 

1- Who was your favourite character?
2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?
3- Was this the first book you've read in this genre/ by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?
4- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?
5- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

6- How important do you think the girl in the garage was?

7- Why do you think strangers who met Harold wanted to help him?

8- Are there any morals to be drawn from the other "pilgrims" who joined Harold?

9- Did he help Queenie in the end at all? 

10- Was Harold's Pilgrimage all in vain ?


Edited by vodkafan, 01 July 2013 - 09:28 AM.


#2 Athena

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 10:04 AM

Nice questions :).

1. Who was your favourite character?
This is a difficult question! It'd have to be either Maureen or Harold, also Queenie is such a great character, the things she did for Harold. She wasn't a main character though so I'll have to go with either Harold or Maureen. I didn't like Maureen a lot at the start of the book but she grew on me as the book progressed and she changed her behaviour (though most of her behaviour made somewhat sense to me). I liked Harold too, he seemed like an interesting, nice gentleman. The way he talks with a lot of people during his journey and tries to help them as they help him, I thought that was really nice.

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?
I enjoyed the first part of Harold's walk more, because I loved the descriptions of the countryside. However, I liked Maureen better in the second part of the book, she became more likeable and started to be more active.

3. Was this the first book you've read in this genre/ by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?
It's the first book I've read by this author. I've added Perfect to my wishlist, it's not out yet in paperback but I like the sound of it and I love the author's writing in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

4. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?
I struggled a bit with the added fame of Harold and all the other pilgrims who joined him. This wasn't what I imagined would happen! However once I read a bit more I accepted it and moved on. The people did add to the storyline. I also thought that it might've been better if the truth about David had been revealed slightly earlier in the story, the behaviour of some of the characters might've made more sense to me then. However in a way it's also nice that it's done this late in the book, because things make sense from then on, it's kind of a big plot twist (imo), one I didn't see coming.

5. Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?
It was very enjoyable! I really loved the writing and the descriptions of the countryside, it made the walk come alive for me (if that makes sense). I also loved reading about Harold, Maureen, David and Queenie, their past, thoughts and feelings.

6. How important do you think the girl in the garage was?
I think she was important but if it hadn't been her than maybe someone else had said something or maybe Harold would've decided it by himself.

7. Why do you think strangers who met Harold wanted to help him?
Imo, it was very nice of them to help him. Personally, I think I'd help too (provided it doesn't cost me too much energy etc) though there are a lot of people out there these days who wouldn't. Why they would want to help him, I'm not sure. I'd like to think from the goodness/kindness of their hearts (that's how it'd work for me). Generally people who help others, are happier and feel better about themselves. That may have been a motive too, perhaps.

8. Are there any morals to be drawn from the other "pilgrims" who joined Harold?
Not everyone who seems kind, can be trusted. Some of them turned against Harold, one nicked things, another decided to do things in a different way, go in a different direction, etc. People might still do their own thing and be selfish.

9. Did he help Queenie in the end at all? 
I like to believe she hung on for him, though whether that's a good thing or not.. her existence didn't seem to include more than just that, existing. However, I like to think she knew Harold came by and did this for her, I like to think that that's one of her last happy thoughts before she passed away.

10. Was Harold's Pilgrimage all in vain ?
No, I don't believe so. He and Maureen were much closer by the end of the book, his walk in a way healed them both and made them realise how much they care for each other. Also, it may have made Queenie happy.

My paperback copy has some questions at the end of the book for book clubs, if you like I can post them but I don't want to take anything away from you as the host. I like your questions more to be honest :)!

#3 vodkafan

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 10:19 AM

Hi Athena thanks. I would say post them, people can answer them or not if they want. All questions are optional anyway, they are just an aid to discussion. I am glad that you enjoyed the book.



#4 Athena

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 10:39 AM

Here are the questions from the paperback version of the book, ISBN: 9780552778091. They are not numbered in the book.

Harold's journey is both physical and metaphorical. He is not the only character in the novel to go on a journey and Rachel Joyce has said that writing the book was in itself a journey. What other literary journeys does this novel call to mind?

Harold says he is not a religious man but his journey is called a pilgrimage and it is undoubtedly a leap of faith. How much and how consciously do you feel Rachel Joyce draws on Christian tenets and/or other belief systems in the novel?

Harold is a man with many flaws. Despite, or perhaps because of this, do you see him as an archetypal Englishman? Or is he an Everyman?

When we first met Harold and Maureen, at the breakfast table, they seem in different worlds. To what extent did you see Maureen as a cause for Harold's departure?

Is Harold's relationship with David the inevitable result of Harold's own upbringing?

The mental health of several characters is called into question in the novel. Depression, Alzheimer's and addiction are all diseases that touch many of us and yet mental illness remains to a great extent taboo in our society. How is Rachel Joyce using this? Do you find it effective?

Harold and Mauren are married but both are lonely. The couple Harold meets at Buckfast Abbey travel together but also have lost sight of what holds them together. What makes a marriage happy? How much is romantic happiness about being a pair and how much about other people and interests?

At the start of the book both Harold and Maureen hve allowed friends to fall by the wayside. This story is about how we all connect with one another. What makes someone a true friend and how does Rachel Joyce represent friendship?

Regret is an emotion that plays a key part in the novel. Do you think Rachel Joyce sees it as a positive or a negative force?

Rachel Joyce writes beautifully about the English countryside - but how crucial to the telling of her story is the actual landscape she describes? How would it change the novel if it was set in Scotland, perhaps, or France, or ...?

The sea provides bookends for the novel and plays a vivid part in Harold's memories. Is this significant?

How does Rachel Joyce use food and the sharing of food in the novel?

How much are Harold's responses to his fellow pilgrims dictated by his past?

Was the ending of the novel a shock or the inevitable conclusion?

Who saves who in this novel?

Has The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry inspired you to do something out of the ordinary - take a journey? Renew contact with someone? Look at strangers with a new perspective? Do share your response at: www.facebook.com/unlikelypilgrimageofharoldfry


#5 mrsmac

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 12:23 PM

I have read this book but it was some time ago so will have to go back to it with the list of questions - I do remember a feeling of sadness about the book but maybe it was more to do with my mood at the time, will have another read with the questions in mind.  



#6 vodkafan

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 04:06 PM

Hi mrsmac, I will be very interested to hear your opinion. Don't feel you have to answer all the questions. We have rather a lot now!



#7 bookworm87

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 07:58 AM


Who was your favourite character?


I found myself liking Maureen the most, she wasn’t a character I initially warmed to but as the story progressed I felt like I was rooting for her to open up and establish a connection with Harold again

Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?


I started off quite enjoying it, but as the story went on I liked it less and less, so I’d have to say the first few chapters. I liked the way Joyce depicted Harold’s decision to start walking in a low key way, there was no over the top drama etc.


Was this the first book you've read in this genre/ by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?


This is the first book I have read by Rachel Joyce and I’m afraid it will probably be my last. The story and style of writing just didn’t appeal to me at all.


Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

 

Yes, I found the whole David storyline a bit peculiar. Maureen’s sudden change from being happily married to despising Harold once David was born I found really unbelievable. Also, David’s problems and suicide formed a central element of the novel and I felt they were completely glossed over. It was mentioned in passing that he may have been on drugs/depressed, but it was never actually depicted in any depth.


I also found the incident where Harold destroys his boss’s clowns and Queenie covering for him (again, a central theme) as a bit of an anti-climax. I thought it would be revealed that Harold had done something like burn the brewery down!


Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?


Unfortunately not for me, but I am glad I read it as it was something a bit different that I wouldn’t normally have read


How important do you think the girl in the garage was?


She seems to represent Hope and Faith in the book and Harold sees her as the embodiment of these qualities I think, so she is an important character in the book


Why do you think strangers who met Harold wanted to help him?


They saw the essential goodness of what Harold was doing and identified with it. I think the strangers were also meant to give a ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ message.


Are there any morals to be drawn from the other "pilgrims" who joined Harold


Most of them seemed pretty mean and selfish, it made me quite mad that they hijacked Harold’s pilgrimage and made it into something completely different.


Did he help Queenie in the end at all? 


I think she probably recognised him, but Harold’s dissatisfaction when he reaches her really made me feel depressed to be honest and I found his behavior quite selfish. The ending was the worst part of the book and I found myself getting more and more annoyed with the doom and gloom.


Was Harold's Pilgrimage all in vain?


No, by the end he and Maureen seemed to have a better understanding of each other, so I think it was worthwhile in that respect.



 



#8 vodkafan

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 08:50 AM

Thanks bookworm! I agree with some of what you felt about the book, but I didn't mind the way previous events were teased out and released in little bits, that was OK and I felt it fitted with the way thoughts might come on a long walk. I did feel something was odd about the David thing but I don't feel the author could have handled it very much differently.

Glad that it got you reading something that was different for you!



#9 Alexi

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 06:16 PM

 
1- Who was your favourite character?

Probably Maureen. I felt a lot of sympathy for her feeling left behind and it was good to read about her reemerging feelings for Harold.

2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

To be honest, it felt very samey all the way through the book. I kept waiting for something to fall into place for me, having read so many positive reviews, and yet it just plodded along.

3- 
Was this the first book you've read in this genre/ by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

I'm not sure the genre was distinct enough to put me off a section of literature for life! However, I will be slow to pick up another Joyce book again for reasons I shall detail in question 4.

4- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

I found this book thoroughly disappointing (bearing in mind I voted for it in the poll!!) It found it slow and repetitive and found the characters very difficult to root for and find a connection with. I certainly didn't find it moving, inspiring or life affirming (all words taken from amazon reviews).

Sme interesting themes were touched on here - specifically, Harold's drinking, David's depression and suicide (I guessed he was dead although not the cause - the keeping his room exactly the same was the giveaway for me) and yet they a dangled tantalisingly in front of my yearning for interesting plot threads and yanked away again.

Harold smashed some glass clowns? That was what we were building up to for 200 pages? Underwhelming, to say the least. Not for me, this one I'm afraid!

5- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

I rated if a 2/5 (simply because to achieve a 1 I have to loathe picking it up/leave it unfinished). So - not really, sorry for such a negative review!

6- How important do you think the girl in the garage was?

Extremely - she gave Harold an idea to hold onto, and crystallised his faith for him which became so important to the journey.
7- Why do you think strangers who met Harold wanted to help him?

Probably because we can all identify with having regrets about the past and Harold was seeking to do something about his.

8- Are there any morals to be drawn from the other "pilgrims" who joined Harold?

They were all pretty dreadful weren't they? Rich is definitely that obnoxious man at work who takes credit for everyone else's ideas in meetings ;) I liked the hospice nurse referring to them as "noisy"!

9- Did he help Queenie in the end at all? 

Yes I think so. My interpretation was she recognised a good man had been there just before she died, and she seemed to be entirely at peace at the end which is all we can really ask for.

10- Was Harold's Pilgrimage all in vain ?

No - as others have said it brought him and Maureen back together at last and gave him a sense of purpose again.

I hope I added something to the discussion by explaining why I didn't like it, rather than just moaning!

#10 vodkafan

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 12:28 AM

Thanks Alexi, no worries I think you explained yourself pretty good!



#11 bookworm87

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 07:21 AM

 Harold smashed some glass clowns? That was what we were building up to for 200 pages? Underwhelming, to say the least. Not for me, this one I'm afraid!

 

Hi Alexi,

 

This made me laugh because it was exactly what I thought as well :smile:

 

It sounds like you had a very similar reading experience to me with this one, so I was really interested to read your comments!



#12 Kidsmum

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 11:01 AM

1- Who was your favourite character?

I think that Maureen was my favourite character i felt sorry for her at the start of the book & i liked the way you gradually got to understand her more as the book went on. I also liked Rex i felt that he was a good friend to both Harold & Maureen & i liked the way their friendship grew.


2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

I thought the best part of the book was where we found out what had happened to David, i was sure that he would turn out to be in prison so it was a total surprise to find out that he'd actually died.


3- Was this the first book you've read in this genre/ by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

This is the first book i've read by Rachel Joyce & although i wouldn't rule out reading any of more of her stuff i wouldn't rush out to buy it either.


4- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

There were a few things i didn't like, i found Harold quite irritating & a lot of the people he met on his pilgrimage just didn't seem like believable characters to me so as the book went on i started to lose patience with the story.


5- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

I would say it was an okay read but i was expecting to like it  more so i was kind of disappointed as the comments printed on the back of the book gave it such high praise.

 

6- How important do you think the girl in the garage was?

Well from what i can remember it was her comments that inspired Harold to walk all the way to visit Queenie, so very important & the fact that Harold sent her postcards on his pilgrimage shows that he considered her to be  very important as well.

 

7- Why do you think strangers who met Harold wanted to help him?

I think people were moved by what they saw as Harold's devotion to Queenie but i also think that most people are kind & compassionate at heart & will help a person in need if they can.

 

8- Are there any morals to be drawn from the other "pilgrims" who joined Harold?

Grrr !!!   i found the other"pilgrims" so annoying, i mean get a life of your own people  :banghead:  I suppose you could say that because their motives weren't as pure as Harold's they were easily corrupted when fame & money was dangled in front of them.

 

9- Did he help Queenie in the end at all? 

It's hard to say, it did seem to be that she hung on to life long enough so Harold could reach her but as he did seem to be the one to benefit the most from the pilgrimage i'm not sure if that was a good thing.

 

10- Was Harold's Pilgrimage all in vain ?

No, Harold faced a lot of his demons while he was walking & it also saved his marriage so it certainly wasn't in vain.



#13 tunn300

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 05:15 AM

I read this book towards the end of June and initially gave it an 8/10 but the more I have reflected back on it since and again when answering these questions the less impressed I have been with it. 

 

1- Who was your favourite character?

For me this is a tough one as initially I did like Harold but as the story wore on I felt less and less connection with the reason for his pilgrimage and saw him as a bit of a sell out when he agreed to the sponsorship deal from the energy drink company.  Initially I didn't like Maureen as I found the fact she just let Harold go a bit unbelievable but she grew on me as the book progressed. So overall I would say my favourite character depended on what part of the book I was reading. 
2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

I did enjoy the initial part of the walk and Harolds descriptions of the English countryside and his reflections back on the mistakes he had made in life. 
3- Was this the first book you've read in this genre/ by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

The is the first book by Rachel Joyce I have read and will probably be my last. 
4- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

I struggled with the end of the book, pretty much from where the pilgrims joined. Although in our age of 24 hour news this probably would happen in real life I felt that the pilgrims themselves were a bit exaggerated as characters and I certainly don't think news channels etc would start following the new pilgrims on the final part of the walk and leave Harold alone. 
5- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

At the time I did quite enjoy reading it but at the end and reflecting back after I am a little disappointed.

6- How important do you think the girl in the garage was?

Very as it gave Harold the justification, however unbelievable it was, to start the journey. 

7- Why do you think strangers who met Harold wanted to help him?

Because people are inherently good and people enjoy supporting others in seemingly impossible tasks. 

8- Are there any morals to be drawn from the other "pilgrims" who joined Harold?

That some people are only interested in what is in it for me. I felt these pilgrims were however very exaggerated characters and most of them quite unbelievable. 

9- Did he help Queenie in the end at all? 

Well I feel that Queenie did hang on to see Harold one last time but did doing that and living a few months more in the condition she was in help her, i'm not so sure. 

10- Was Harold's Pilgrimage all in vain ?

No as Harold came to terms with a lot of his demons and saved his marriage in the process. 



#14 Alexi

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 07:22 AM

Hi Alexi,

This made me laugh because it was exactly what I thought as well :smile:

It sounds like you had a very similar reading experience to me with this one, so I was really interested to read your comments!


Hi bookworm. I read your comments after posting mine and I completely agreed with them all! :smile:

I think my expectations were wildly increased by the reviews - I kept waiting for something to fall into place and then realised I was 200 pages in and still waiting!

One thing I forgot to mention - I though Maureen's friendship with Rex was great and the map was such a thoughtful gift.

#15 vodkafan

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 08:54 AM

Thanks Kidsmum and Tunn300 for your insightful answers!

I am struggling to get time to get on the forum today but I will be back around 2am.

@ Alexi, at first I wondered about Rex's motives and I thought he was moving in on Maureen, even after he explained how much he had loved his wife I still didn't fully trust him till late in the book....



#16 mrsmac

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 12:14 PM

1. Who was your favourite character?

 

My favourite characters were Harold and Maureen.  They are two fairly ordinary people who meet, fall in love, get married, have a child and then their lives are blown apart by the tragedy of their only son's suicide.  Maureen is extremely bitter and blames Harold for not being able to help the boy and Harold blames himself too.  They continue to live together with Maureen trying to cope with her loss by 'talking' to her dead son.  Harold doesn't know how to deal with this so they live in this unhappy situation until the letter from Queenie arrives which devastates Harold who again has something else to feel guilty about - he didn't keep in touch with a friend who took the blame for him and saved him from being fired. He decides to answer the letter immediately, while Maureen looks on with little interest.  While walking and making several abortive attempts to mail the letter at different locations he is taken by the strange thought that if only he can get to Queenie in time he can save her and alters his letter to reflect his intentions (wait for me, I'm coming).  Thus begins the pilgrimage which changes both his and Maureen's lives and ultimately heals their marriage.  The way they both handle the situation brings about a marvellous reconciliation with the revival of Maureen's love.  To me it's both a pilgrimage and a love story.

 

2.  Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

 

I liked the way Harold began noticing nature all around and seeing the world as he hasn't seen it before, sort of an awakening.  I also thought it was amazing how Harold found a depth in himself to attempt and continue with the seemingly impossible task of walking for 500+ miles.

 

3.  Was this the first book you've read in this genre by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

 

Yes, I hadn't read anything like this which I guess is called literature fiction.  I wasn't too impressed the first time but reading it for the second time and knowing the outcome I enjoyed it immensely because of not worrying about some horrible climax.  It was very pleasant and I think I would read something again by this author.

 

4.  Was there any part you struggled with?

 

The whole concept of walking away from home and continuing to walk for hundreds of miles struck me as being the behaviour of someone mentally unstable but it made more sense as I continued to read as what he was doing was intensely therapeutic for him although not so for Maureen.  While he was 'finding himself' he was leaving Maureen to deal with her abandonment although he did stay in touch with postcards and little gifts.  I found it particularly selfish that he was using his retirement income for himself with little thought for Maureen, although he does come to realize this and changes his spending behaviour.

 

5.  Overall, was reading this book an enjoyable experience?

 

Yes, it was, the second time around, not as enjoyable with the first reading.

 

6. How important do you think the girl in the garage was?

 

She was important in that she bolstered Harold's belief that it was possible to save someone with terminal cancer.

 

7. Why do you think strangers who met Harold wanted to help him?

 

I think Harold's self-effacing ways and possibly his appearance of helplessness and general innocence brought out the best in people.  

 

9.  Did he help Queenie in the end at all?

 

I'd like to think that she was aware of him when she was dying and it gave her some comfort but I think it helped Harold more than Queenie.  I think actually seeing Queenie and realizing that there really had never been anything he could do to help her was another life lesson for Harold.

 

10.  Was Harold's Pilgrimage all in vain?

 

No, definitely not, it gave Harold a different perspective on life in general and it healed his marriage.  He never had stopped loving Maureen but it was a gradual understanding on her part which caused the reconciliation, so I think his pilgrimage with its attendant challenges was a huge success for both him and Maureen.  

 

Not sure about the other 'pilgrims' - they had issues of their own with which to deal and in the end they just weren't there for Harold.  


Edited by mrsmac, 04 July 2013 - 12:40 PM.


#17 poppyshake

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 08:56 PM

I read this last year and I've slept since then .. but I'll try and put my thoughts down as best as I can :)

 

1- Who was your favourite character?

Sometimes Harold and sometimes Maureen .. as others have said .. in the beginning I was rooting for Harold but in the end was more attached to Maureen.
2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

The beginning I suppose, like a lot of other people I thought the story went off a bit when the pilgrims joined in etc and that part didn't seem believable. I quite liked the way we found out about Harold's history in dribs and drabs too .. it kept me intrigued.
3- Was this the first book you've read in this genre/ by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

It is the first book I've read of Rachel's but I've added another of hers to the wishlist since so, although not entirely delirious about the story, it had enough of what I like about it, to make me interested in reading more.
4- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

As I said earlier, the bit where Harold's journey gets hi-jacked by others and also, for different reasons, Harold's eventual reconciliation with Queenie which I found really difficult because, like Harold, I thought she might be saved or at least benefit from his visit. I read that bit in tears because she was suffering so cruelly.  
5- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

On the whole yes, though as the book progressed it got sadder and sadder and I actually thought it would do the reverse.

6- How important do you think the girl in the garage was?

Well she planted the seed didn't she and that was all it took.

7- Why do you think strangers who met Harold wanted to help him?

You couldn't not want to help him could you? He was such an innocent.

8- Are there any morals to be drawn from the other "pilgrims" who joined Harold?

'Don't trust anybody'? :D No, I don't mean that, plenty of people were a real help to Harold .. although obviously there are people that will do anything to jump on a bandwagon and get themselves or their cause noticed .. these characters didn't seem to ring true to me though .. I'm not sure why.

9- Did he help Queenie in the end at all?

I'm not sure .. I think she helped Harold enormously but it was hard to imagine that he helped her .. she was suffering so badly. It was clear she'd hung on for him so maybe that last meeting was a comfort .. it was hard to see it that way though. 

10- Was Harold's Pilgrimage all in vain ?

No ... he and Maureen were on the road to nowhere and the cracks between them were widening. His pilgrimage put everything in perspective and got them communicating again.



#18 vodkafan

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 01:29 AM

Thanks mrsmac and poppyshake- great answers from both of you!



#19 cosimo

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Posted 09 July 2013 - 06:29 PM

hello, I'm just reading this novel and I love it.

As soon as I finish this week I will read your

comments. :smile: 



#20 vodkafan

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 12:25 AM

Hi Cosimo welcome to the forum and the Reading Circle! I hope to read your comments about the book too!






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