by Rachel Joyce
Written as a “companion” novel to Joyce’s 2013 bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy tells a parallel story, offering Queenie’s perspective. You really need to read Harold Fry first, however, in order for Queenie Hennessy to make sense.
In the first novel, Harold Fry, a sixty-five year old man receives a letter one day from a co-worker and friend whom he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years, telling him that she is dying from cancer. Queenie Hennessy is that old friend. Harold, taken by surprise, quickly scratches out a reply to Queenie and walks to the mailbox to post his note to her, only he keeps on walking. What began as a quick trip up the road to mail a letter becomes a pilgrimage: Harold walks the length of England to get to the hospice in which Queenie lay dying, believing that as long as he keeps walking, she’ll keep living. Along the way, Harold faces grief and regret and is ultimately transformed by what he learns about himself, those closest to him, and people in general.
In The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Queenie herself is fleshed out: where did she come from? What had shaped her? What regrets did she have? What did she do while Harold was walking the length of England to her? And why did she write to Harold in the first place after a twenty-year silence?
The premise of Queenie Hennessy is well-imagined, and the character of Queenie is well-developed. However, I did find aspects of the story disappointing: that she spent twenty years feeling responsible for what happened to Harold’s son David felt foolish, self-indulgent, and even somewhat self-aggrandizing, and that she fancied herself so in love with Harold that she became a martyr – saving his job twice, taking the blame for something he did and losing her job as a result, and living out the rest of her life essentially as a recluse because her love for Harold overshadowed any possibility of pursuing a fulfilling relationship with someone who was not married and who was actually aware of her feelings.
I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – so much so that I’m currently re-reading it. It’s a beautiful story about the human heart.
I just wish Queenie’s story had been different, I guess. It’s interesting enough to keep reading, but in the end it’s mostly just another story about unrequited love and a woman who sacrifices everything for a man.