The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
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|The Love Song of
Miss Queenie Hennessy
by Rachel Joyce
Published by Random House
March 5, 2015
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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Last year, I read and loved a lot The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. So I jumped on the opportunity (thanks Random House and Netgalley!) to read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, which is basically the same story, but now told from the perspective of the woman at the other end of the road. It is just as beautiful as the first book.
Queenie is suffering from cancer and is a hospice resident. She can no longer talk, and communicates by writing. Encouraged by a Sister running the hospice, she writes her journal, trying to confess something she did twenty years before and had not been able to tell Harold. She has felt bad about it ever since, and plans to tell him when he arrives after his long walk through England.
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
Martin Buber quoted at the beginning of the book
Just as Harold goes deeper into his memory as he walks, so does Queenie on her hospice bed: as her world narrows, she goes deeper and reminisces.
I thought this was a great parallel between both books: how constant movement through walking or total immobility can both invite you to an inner journey and to pay more attention as well to your present surroundings and people evolving around you.
I knew then that you would always see the positive side because you liked people, and you wanted the best for them. It was intoxicating.
There are really great insights and funny descriptions on the other residents, each quite a character in his or her own way! And by the way, the descriptions of the Sisters, staff of the hospice, are remarkable. I have to say, it’s refreshing to find such a positive view of religious members in a book. That’s unfortunately quite unusual. Not surprisingly, the author mentions the Bernardine Cistercians community in Gloucestershire and their contemplative atmosphere which helped her write her book. An author according to my heart…
You can really feel this contemplative mood in both books, in dealing with both people and nature. I had the pleasure to find again the same wonderful descriptions of the landscape indeed in this second book, for instance the sea garden Queenie set up years before to atone.
I thought of the hotel door that wouldn’t pull or push but only slid from right to left. Sometimes, Harold, the way forward takes you by surprise. You try to force something in the familiar direction and discover that what it needs is to move in a different dimension. The way forward is not forward, but off to one side, in a place you have not noticed before.
I was fascinated by Queenie’s character, and her love “from the sidelines”.
Both books read together make a wonderful diptych on life and death, love and friendship, memories and the grace of the present moment.
The ending, with some unexpected twists is both sad and very beautiful.
VERDICT: Within a contemplative atmosphere rich in descriptions of places and people, past and present, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy offers a beautiful lesson in simple happiness. A great voice in literary fiction I am ready to listen to again.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
From the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes an exquisite love story about Queenie Hennessy, the remarkable friend who inspired Harold’s cross-country journey.
A runaway international bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry followed its unassuming hero on an incredible journey as he traveled the length of England on foot—a journey spurred by a simple letter from his old friend Queenie Hennessy, writing from a hospice to say goodbye. Harold believed that as long as he kept walking, Queenie would live. What he didn’t know was that his decision to walk had caused her both alarm and fear. How could she wait? What would she say? Forced to confront the past, Queenie realizes she must write again.
In this poignant parallel story to Harold’s saga, acclaimed author Rachel Joyce brings Queenie Hennessy’s voice into sharp focus. Setting pen to paper, Queenie makes a journey of her own, a journey that is even bigger than Harold’s; one word after another, she promises to confess long-buried truths—about her modest childhood, her studies at Oxford, the heartbreak that brought her to Kingsbridge and to loving Harold, her friendship with his son, the solace she has found in a garden by the sea. And, finally, the devastating secret she has kept from Harold for all these years.
A wise, tender, layered novel that gathers tremendous emotional force, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy underscores the resilience of the human spirit, beautifully illuminating the small yet pivotal moments that can change a person’s life. [from the publisher]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Perfect. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was short-listed for the Commonwealth Book Prize and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into thirty-six languages. Rachel Joyce was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards New Writer of the Year in December 2012. She is also the author of the digital short story A Faraway Smell of Lemon and is the award-winning writer of over thirty original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4. Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire.
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