The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
By: Rachel Joyce
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
When Queenie Hennessy discovers that Harold Fry is walking the length of England to save her, and all she has to do is wait, she is shocked. Her note had explained she was dying. How can she wait?
A new volunteer at the hospice suggests that Queenie should write again; only this time she must tell Harold everything. In confessing to secrets she has hidden for twenty years, she will find atonement for the past. As the volunteer points out, ‘Even though you’ve done your travelling, you’re starting a new journey too.’
Queenie thought her first letter would be the end of the story. She was wrong. It was the beginning.
Ideally I had planned to re-read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (review) but as I was partly in a reading slump and just started reading the first pages of a few books on my TBR pile, this book grabbed my attention from the get-go. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy I should note is a companion novel of sorts, unfolding simultaneously as Harold Fry is making his pilgrimage to see Queenie in person.
I enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and knew I would love The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy but omg did I love this book. In a way this book is tougher to read because Queenie is dying and spending her last days in a hospice, surrounded my people who are also struggling and of advanced age, and faced with alternating narratives between her memory of younger days and the decline in her health, it’s tough and sad. But like the first book this book goes through Queenie’s life–her childhood, her young adulthood, her time in Kingsbridge and her life after tragedy–and her joys and regrets, her love and missed opportunities. Like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry the pace is relatively slow but not as slow as there’s that sense of anticipation that Harold Fry is making her way to Queenie Hennessy.
I guess I also loved this book because of Queenie herself: I found her much more relatable and had led perhaps a much more interesting life than steady Harold Fry, who whilst he had a sad childhood led a relatively comfortable, low-key life. Queenie on the other hand had gone to Oxford, had travelled, had held a number of jobs. She has her own shortcomings, of course, and there’s a quiet sadness to her unspoken love for Harold. There’s also the tragedy intermixed with Harold’s story that burdens her for throughout her life after Kingsbridge and that she eventually comes face to face with in her last days at the hospice.
But the other characters that populate the hospice–from the nuns to the patients–were also a delight to read, adding colour to the story as they are all inexplicably drawn to Harold Fry’s pilgrimage. I found the one scene moving where they all decided that they would wait for Harold Fry as well; it just showed how one person’s waiting became the group’s goal as well, which I thought was sweet. Working in a semi-similar situation (not in a hospice, but definitely with a geriatric population), it’s interesting to see a group of people bond together like that.
I don’t know what else to say about The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy; it was introspective and moving and I really felt for Queenie. As a companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry it definitely did not disappoint and in a way exceeded expectations. I cannot recommend both books enough!