It’s a dreary Saturday afternoon in May as I drink my cup of regular tea and write this post. All my cats are napping in various spots around the room, and there’s nothing much better to do today than think about what I’ve been reading and, of course, doing some actual reading later on.
My book group met this morning to discuss The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. This excellent novel by former British playwright Joyce was a real hit with everyone in the group. This novel begins when recently-retired Harold Fry receives a letter from a friend and former colleague, Queenie Hennessey, who disappeared suddenly and unexpectedly 20 years earlier, and who is now writing to say goodbye to Harold, as she is dying of cancer, and “there is no hope”. Harold feels he should send her a reply, so he jots a brief note and heads off to mail it. When he reaches the post office, however, he feels that he would like to keep going to the next postal box, and then the next and the next, until he’s decided he must walk to Berwick-on-Tweed, more than 500 miles north of his town, in order that Queenie will keep living, at least until he arrives. Despite the highs and lows of his extensive journey, Harold keeps travelling by foot, and meets many people, often interesting and compassionate, along the way. His wife, Maureen, is bewildered by her husband’s decision, and is at once angry, jealous, and confused. This novel follows Harold on his physical, emotional and spiritual journey towards Queenie, and to some extent, Maureen’s own journey, and offers up stories about those they meet on their way. We discussed this book in great detail, but here are some of the highlights. One member said that she thought the suspense created around Harold’s and Maureen’s son, David, was handled skillfully by the author, and that this added to the depth of the book. The author also did a good job of developing Harold’s character as he made his journey, that he began as a bit of a milquetoast before he set out, then became strong during the pilgrimage, then broke down and needed help towards the end. Someone said that she liked nearly all of the characters, except Harold’s boss, Napier, whose nastiness plays a significant role in the development of the story, and another member said she really related to and identified with both Harold and Maureen, and their struggles with each other and the outside world. We talked about the significance of Harold’s shoes, and what it meant to him to not seek out comfort, in fact to refuse it even when it was offered or made available. We all agreed that he dealt with his fame and popularity in a fair and generous manner, without betraying his own intentions. He was almost too good to be true, and this was more of a fable than a realistic story. We compared it to The Alchemist and to the journey of Jesus in the bible, including the followers, the false believers, and the betrayals. We thought that this novel demonstrated how strongly people are influenced by their upbringing and childhood environment. While I felt that there was much hope in this novel, another member of the group said she felt a great sense of sadness throughout the book. All in all, it was an excellent discussion, and I would highly recommend this novel to just about anyone who enjoys novels of self-discovery, or those involving a spiritual or emotional journey.
I also finished listening to A Pocketful of Rye by Agatha Christie last week. It was as I have come to expect from Christie’s mysteries, repetitive enough that if I miss a bit, I’m not completely lost, yet complex enough to keep me interested to the very end. This murder mystery begins with Rex Fortiscue, a wealthy businessman, taking ill and collapsing at work one morning, then dying under suspicious circumstances in the hospital a few hours later. When Detective Neil begins investigating, he discovers family secrets and hidden agendas surrounding Rex and his unusual family. When another murder occurs, and then another, Miss Marple is brought in to help Neil and his team uncover the truth and solve the murder. I have not read many books in the “Miss Marple” series, and thought I would not find them as interesting as the “Hercule Poirot” books. This is true, but not because the murder mysteries are any less interesting. Rather, Poirot is, in my opinion, a more interesting sleuth than Marple. Having said that, this was a fun listening experience for me, and light enough to suit my needs during this hectic time of year.
That’s all for this week. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!
Bye for now...
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