Described by the publisher as being the “poignant parallel story to Harold’s saga”, “The love song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” is a tour de force in it’s own right. Sure it is the companion of Rachel Joyce‘s bestselling, award-winning “The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry“, but it is a treasure by itself. The two novels have a single time frame, so are in fact two halves of a whole. I can’t help thinking of those heart lockets that are in two pieces.
I must warn potential readers that this is a sad, sad story. Yet it is simultaneously infused with joy. Queenie has terminal cancer and can no longer look after herself. She now lives in a Catholic hospice cared for by nursing nuns. Twenty years ago she had worked with and fell in love with a married man, Harold Fry. She vowed to love him quietly and keep her love for him to herself so as not to impact on his life with his wife. When she accidentally meets his son, David, they strike up a strange acquaintance/friendship. Queenie never tells Harold that she knows his son. This secret is one that will mar their relationship and follow her until her death…
Queenie has not seen, heard from, or talked to Harold for twenty years, yet her love for him remains undiminished. When she moves into the hospice, knowing full well her time on this earth is near its end, Queenie writes Harold a letter. When he writes his reply he goes to the post box to mail it, only then deciding that he must walk to Queenie and deliver it in person. He tells her to wait. His journey takes a long time. It is over 600 miles from Devon to the Northumberland coast and Berwick-upon-Tweed where Queenie is.
In addition to Queenie waiting, the entire hospice, its patients and its staff, are waiting for Harold Fry. When people are near death, having someone or something to wait for adds a glimmer of hope to their lives. While they wait, Queenie composes a letter to Harold finally telling him of her love for him, her guilt, her regret. She also shares her reflections on life. Many days it is difficult for her to continue, but with the aid of Sister Mary Inconnu, she perseveres in writing – and living.
This is a novel filled with the pathos of premature endings and the nervous expectancies of new beginnings. Written with a deep understanding of loss and regret, the novel nevertheless is interspersed with a few chuckles and smiles. Life is like that.
I will remember Queenie always. Every time I see a garden near the sea. Every time I eat a fresh peach. I think I cried more reading this novel than I have ever done reading a book. That being said… It was one of my favorite all-time reads!
I have yet to have the joy of reading Harold story, but I look forward to it with eager anticipation. I have read Joyce’s novel “Perfect” which I enjoyed very much.