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.
Told in simple, emotionally-honest prose, with a mischievous bite, this is a novel about the journey we all must take to learn who we are; it is about loving and letting go. And most of all it is about finding joy in unexpected places and at times we least expect.
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is the companion to Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which sees one ordinary man’s life change forever when he receives a letter from somebody from his past. His former work colleague and friend, Queenie Hennessy, is suffering from cancer and is living out her last days in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. A string of events lead Harold to start out on his own ‘pilgrimage’ as he vows to walk over six hundred miles across England from his home in Kingsbridge to visit Queenie and instructs her to ‘wait for him’.
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is set over the same period of the original story only told from Queenie’s point of view. Once she realises Harold is coming, she sets about writing him a letter explaining some heart breaking secrets from her past that she believes he should know, and what really happened when she left Kingsbridge all those years ago. The story switches from Queenie recalling details of her past in the letter; covering her childhood, the days she worked with Harold, how she even fell in love with him from afar but had her heart broken in more ways than anyone could imagine, and then the new life she made for herself. We also learn about Queenie’s life in the hospice as she waits for Harold, day after day, keeping track of his progress and preparing for his arrival.
After falling in love with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry I was desperate to read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey. Queenie herself is quite an elusive character in The Unlikely Pilgrimage… and I was really looking forward to learning more about her, and also learning more about Harold and his past at the same time.
I loved how this book filled in a lot of the gaps from The Unlikely Pilgrimage… and was also a pretty powerful, gripping story in its own right. I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to read this as a standalone novel, but I personally think that you would get so much more enjoyment from it if you have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, as a lot of the same parts are there, only from a completely different perspective. You will find new dimensions of the story and it will also cause you to view certain events with a completely different outlook.
I found it fascinating learning about Harold and Queenie’s past. Some of what I learnt shocked me but also made a lot of sense and the two novels tie in with each other perfectly. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Queenie’s childhood, the days she spent working at the brewery, and her life post-Harold, I also really enjoyed reading the present day scenes set in St Bernadine’s Hospice. Naturally, there are some very sad moments, but there are also a lot of light ones too. The cast in the Hospice are a delightful bunch, especially Finty, who I adored. She is the provider of many genuine ‘laugh out loud’ moments and one of those characters who I had no trouble envisaging. I also loved Queenie herself and hugely enjoyed the story being told from her narrative. We learn from her past that she was a sassy, brave and caring woman, who had been through such a lot and carries around an awful lot of guilt and sorrow.
She does however, provide one of my favourite quotes from the book when talking about Harold “I didn’t want support. I had hosiery for that. I wanted love.” Although it is heartbreaking to see her demise, Rachel Joyce slips these moments into the story so subtly you barely register they’re there, but of course, they are.
Reading about the Sea Garden that Queenie created later in her life after she’d left Kingsbridge was such a joy and I desperately want to see it for myself, which I believe proves the power that Rachel Joyce has as a writer. She brings everything to life, the characters, the places, the events. You will have no trouble imagining that you are sat in a room with these characters and the story is playing out right in front of you.
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is a powerful story full of both love and sadness. It’s engaging, emotional and a story that you won’t forget in a hurry. I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone as there is bound to be something in there that will strike a chord with every reader. I predict big things for this novel and I really hope it gets the recommendation and praise that both it, and it’s hugely talented author, Rachel Joyce, deserve.
A huge thank you to Alison and Naomi at Transworld for having me on board the blog tour for The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and for very kindly sending me a copy to review. ♥
Don’t forget to check out the other brilliant blogs taking part in the tour…
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Perfect published in July 2013. She was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012.
Joyce has also written over 20 original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4, and major adaptations for both the Classic Series, Woman’s Hour and also a TV drama adaptation for BBC 2. In 2007 she won the Tinniswood Award for best radio play.
She moved to writing after a twenty-year career in theatre and television, performing leading roles for the RSC, the Royal National Theatre, The Royal Court, and Cheek by Jowl, winning a Time Out Best Actress award and the Sony Silver.