Having just finished the book over the weekend and posted my review yesterday, it was with perfect timing that I had the opportunity to attend the Chatelaine Book Club event with Random House Canada to celebrate this fantastic debut novel from Rachel Joyce.
In the heart of the Yorkville neighbourhood in Toronto, The Oxley Public House was the location for this fantastically themed book club gathering. After some drinks, appetizers and book chatter we were introduced to Kristin from RHC and Laurie from Chatelaine who spoke briefly about Harold and the journey they experienced while reading it. With a fabulous precursor to introducing Rachel to the room, it was announced that this fantastic debut novel is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize – a phenomenal achievement!
With some reshuffling of people in the standing-room-only space, Rachel then read a brief passage from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I have to say, this lovely English story sounds even more beautiful being read by the author’s proper British accent. It seems to make it even more real and adds that extra element to it.
After the reading, Rachel answered a few questions that the attendees had and spoke briefly about writing Harold. The novel actually had started as a radio play, of which Rachel had written many before. As a way of coping with the news that her father had fallen ill, Harold had developed out of those experiences; both men of few words and fewer public emotions. In a way, this was a chance for Rachel to honour her father’s legacy and, as she says, he never knew about the book and probably would have been mortified at the attention. While she stresses that her mother is nothing like Maureen, she took a lot of the feelings and experiences that her mother lived with after her father’s passing to work into the way that Maureen passed the time without Harold in the house. We got a chance to speak to Rachel about various moments in the book (which are sometimes difficult to do without giving away anything) and I was pleased to find that the role that the media plays in the novel was one that Rachel quite enjoyed as well! I also commented on the helpful map at the beginning of the book, and she said that she actually mapped out Harold’s journey in great detail because otherwise she felt like she would be cheating her readers. Telling us a humourous anecdote of how she quietly ripped away pages of the map in the car to build the journey map until her husband called her one day, lost somewhere because the map jumped from one location to another on the next page.
Someone had mentioned how unassuming the prose was, that it was a flowing – almost conversational – read, where it isn’t bogged down with frilly literary writing, and yet evokes that feeling in the reader of a fantastic literary journey. For Rachel, the book and Harold, both had leap-of-faith moments and once it was published and selling all around the world, it was like the book was going on a journey of its own without her. Perhaps all the publishers and readers along the way are like the strangers Harold meets on his journey, pushing him along and wishing for his success.
After all my raving of this fantastic debut book, I’m so happy to share with you the chance to win a signed copy for yourself so you can take this same journey with Harold Fry! (CANADA only)
A huge thank you to Rachel Joyce, Chatelaine Books, Random House Canada and The Oxley Public House for a fantastic evening of books, fish & chips and all things British!