The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
by Rachel Joyce
This book is the companion to ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ which I read in 2013 – the story of a man who receives a letter from a woman, Queenie Hennessey, who he worked with over twenty years previously, telling him she was grateful for his friendship and that she was dying. Harold decides to walk from Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed to see her. He tells her to wait for him.
That story was one of such charm and hope and joy that I had no hesitation in purchasing the companion. This is the Queenie’s story. As she lies in her hospice, a nun tells her that she needs to write a letter to Harold, to tell him the truth. You might think that a story about a woman waiting to die is bound to be pretty depressing. This book is not depressing. There are tears, yes, but there is laughter. The other residents in the hospice are wonderful characters who are full of life, until the end. But it is the beauty of Rachel Joyce’s writing that, for me, is the jewel. The descriptions of Queenie’s sea garden leap off the page, you can run your fingers over her driftwood figures and feel the wood beneath your fingertips.
But to return to the story, Queenie writes her letter to Harold, telling him the secrets that she could not share, telling him the reason for her departure and begging his forgiveness. We learn about this quiet spinster and we grow to love her. But this is a story with a twist that stops your breath.
This book can be read as a stand alone, but it gains so much from being read after ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage’; it becomes the cherry on top of a very lovely cake.