The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

UnknownThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

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.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Unknown-1 The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel
by Rachel Joyce

Every once in a while a story comes along that moves you in all kinds of ways; this is one of those stories.

Harold Fry is a quiet, passive man in his sixties, recently retired, living in Kingsbridge at the southern tip of England.  He and his wife, Maureen, of nearly forty years, have slept in separate bedrooms for nearly half that time, and their conversations barely go beyond “pass the cream and sugar.”

One day, Harold receives a letter from a woman he has not seen or spoken to in twenty years.  Queenie Hennessy was a coworker of Harold’s a long time ago, and she disappeared very suddenly – and now she is writing to Harold, as an old friend, to let him know that she is dying.  Harold is a little undone by the news – he hardly knows what to say.  He dashes off a quick note in reply and tells Maureen that he is going to walk to the post box to mail it.  When Harold reaches the mailbox, however, he decides to continue walking until he reaches another mailbox.  He passes the afternoon that way – continuing to decide to walk just a little further.  And then he decides to walk all the way to Queenie, where she lays in hospice in Berwick Upon Tweed, roughly 450 miles away – with nothing but the clothes he left home with and not even a mobile phone.

And so begins Harold’s trek to Queenie – which, including detours, ends up being over 600 miles. 431448_318156058241272_72752431_n Over the three months of walking, Harold meets some interesting people and is afforded an opportunity to take stock of his life – especially his painful past.  While he is gone, Maureen, too, is left alone with her thoughts and memories, and is finally able to face truths she could not before bring herself to face.  Harold’s pilgrimage changes both of them in surprising ways . . . or maybe it really just strips them both down to their real selves.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and there were numerous times I had to stop myself from crying while I was out walking or getting a pedicure as I listened to it, plugged into my iPod.  There are so many tender and just plain moving scenes in the story.

Beautifully told, often wry and humorous, and utterly poignant.  I loved this book.