This is a companion volume to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce’s first book, which was long-listed for the Man Booker in 2012. Harold Fry is the amazing story of a man who suddenly decides to walk across the country to visit a dying colleague (Queenie) who he hasn’t seen in years. The premise may be twee but the books aren’t. Joyce has a gift for spinning an engaging story and conveying profound emotions in a real and simply unaffected way. Although Queenie is the focal point in Harold’s story and the reason for his pilgrimage, we actually learn very little about her. In The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy some questions are answered and Queenie embarks on a journey of her own, while telling her story to atone for what she believes she has done. I loved both books and they would be excellent to read in tandem.
Queenie is terminally ill, residing in a hospice, when Harold decides to visit, asking her to hold on and wait until he gets there. I loved the description of the hospice, as loving and caring a place as many real hospices are. I loved the line she was given when she was admitted there, “You are not here to die, you are here to live until you die.” Queenie meets a colourful cast of characters at the hospice that join her in cheering Harold on as he makes his way across the country. I don’t know how I feel about the twist in the ending. Will need to talk about that with someone who has read this, but I can’t say what it is without spoilers! I liked the little surprise in one way because all along I thought I knew what the ending would be from Fry! Though this parallel companion attempts to complete the story, perhaps Joyce leaves us with a more real view of humanity. Life is messy and imperfect, full of pain and regret, but there is also plenty of beauty, love, and joy.
Rachel Joyce is a talented storyteller. I also really enjoyed her book Perfect.