Random House: 3/3/2015
Hardcover, 384 pages
From the bestselling author of comes an exquisite love story about Queenie Hennessy, the remarkable friend who inspired Harold’s cross-country journey.
A runaway international bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry followed its unassuming hero on an incredible journey as he traveled the length of England on foot—a journey spurred by a simple letter from his old friend Queenie Hennessy, writing from a hospice to say goodbye. Harold believed that as long as he kept walking, Queenie would live. What he didn’t know was that his decision to walk had caused her both alarm and fear. How could she wait? What would she say? Forced to confront the past, Queenie realizes she must write again.
In this poignant parallel story to Harold’s saga, acclaimed author Rachel Joyce brings Queenie Hennessy’s voice into sharp focus. Setting pen to paper, Queenie makes a journey of her own, a journey that is even bigger than Harold’s; one word after another, she promises to confess long-buried truths—about her modest childhood, her studies at Oxford, the heartbreak that brought her to Kingsbridge and to loving Harold, her friendship with his son, the solace she has found in a garden by the sea. And, finally, the devastating secret she has kept from Harold for all these years.
A wise, tender, layered novel that gathers tremendous emotional force, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy underscores the resilience of the human spirit, beautifully illuminating the small yet pivotal moments that can change a person’s life.
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce is a very highly recommended novel in which a woman in hospice is examining her life. This is very much a companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Queenie's reflections will likely be appreciated more by those who have read about Harold's journey first. Queenie Hennessy, the woman who was the destination of Harold Fry's 600 mile pilgrimage, has entered St. Bernadine's Hospice in northeast England. She is near the end. Cancer has destroyed her throat and jaw. When Harold sets out on his journey, writing and telling Queenie to wait for him to arrive, it gives her and the other residents something to anticipate before their deaths. This is Queenie's story.
Sister Mary Inconnue suggests that Queenie write a final letter to Harold, one in which she reveals all her thoughts and secrets to Harold. Confession is good for the soul, she is told, so she sets out to write her story. She can confess her love for him, tell him the things she held back from him and never discussed or confessed. She can tell him about where she ended up after she left, about her beach house and the garden by the sea. As Queenie writes the things she needs to say to Harold, we learn more about her, past and present. The past is filled with regrets and some pleasures. The present is with an assortment of odd, endearing companions at the hospice. They all know why they are there, which makes their time together now more poignant. Queenie knows the end is very near.
As I now expect from Rachel Joyce, the writing is exceptional. The story is wonderfully wrought and irresistible, the presentation and pacing is impeccable. Queenie's story alone is compelling, but underneath the surface, there is a literary depth to the narrative that takes it above and beyond a simple recalling of events in a life. There is a twist at the end which surprised me and provided a perfect conclusion.
While I loved this novel, it is very much based on loving The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The only drawback to The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is that it very much depends upon you knowing Harold Fry's story first, which will give Queenie's story a context and background. But, if you enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry as much as I did, you will want to read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.
And don't skip Joyce's novel Perfect. Rachel Joyce is now moving to the upper echelon of the list of authors I will automatically buy anything they write.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House for review purposes.