The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, by Rachel Joyce, is a companion story to the author’s best selling debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It tells the story of the woman Harold Fry was walking to, from her point of view.
At the beginning of both books we learn that Queenie has cancer and is in a hospice in Berwick on Tweed. As Harold walks from Devon to Northumberland she embarks on a journey of her own, composing a letter to confess to him the part she played in his son’s life twenty years ago and of which he is unaware. She has carried the guilt from her actions for two decades and wishes to ask his forgiveness.
In writing her letter Queenie tells of her childhood and how she came to work in the Kingsbridge brewery where she met Harold. She goes over the small details of their interactions, but also offers the reader glimpses of the life she led outside of work. She loved to dance, and to observe the beauty of the world around her. She was lonely and suffered unrequited love, finding ways to get through her days with music and books.
Alongside her reminiscences are details of her current life in the hospice. Despite being populated by the dying there is much humour and optimism amongst the residents who form a fabulous supporting cast for this tale. Knowing that they have little time left to live they take pleasure in the minutae of their experiences, thereby offering lessons for us all.
The imagery brings to life the beauty of the gardens, the coast, and the changing landscape of weather and season. Life is what is happening now; it is the little experiences that should be appreciated.
I found the story less compelling than that of Harold, although it added welcome new depth to his tale. As I knew the bones of the story from having read its companion this was perhaps to be expected. The sumptuous prose ensured that it was still a pleasure to read.
The denouement was unexpected and moving. Despite being a background character in so many people’s lives, Queenie comes across as strong as well as intelligent. How her life turned out may not have been ideal but few people can lay claim to that whatever path they take.
A lovely book that I enjoyed reading, and a must for fans of Harold Fry. I felt this book gave both characters closure and am happy to have made their acquaintance.