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Book Review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

After accompanying Harold on his journey to meet Queenie Hennessy, in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce has given us access to Queenie’s own side of the story whilst she waits for Harold to visit her. Considering Harold is walking from one end of the country to the other in order to reach her we have a lot of time for Queenie to tell her story. Even though we are painfully aware that Queenie is living out her days in a hospice, her story is still a wonder waiting to be told and as events around her begin to unfold we learn why she felt the need to contact Harold after twenty years of silence. Just as the painful truth of her and Harold’s story unfolds, so too does the stark realisation that not all of the residents who have taken a vested interest in the saga will be around to see the ending.

Rachel Joyce has specifically stated that she never set out to write a follow up to her first book but rather more a companion, and Queenie’s tale can therefore be read either alongside Harold’s or on its own, but it’s doubtful that you will want to read one without the other. To have another side to the story just makes you love Harold all the more and to come to know Queenie is a pleasure and it’s very hard to find fault with either character. But, it has to be said that the beauty of this story is in the intricate detail of Queenie’s garden in which she bases her story around because this was her safety net in the years after she and Harold parted and her affection for what was once her sanctuary is clearly evident, quite painfully so at times.

Rachel’s writing is extremely delicate and her hospice scenes are handled with the upmost care, but even so there comes a humour in a place that you wouldn’t necessary expect as the residents and the staff of the hospice are very warmly painted. There is so much humour in the day room that you find yourself forgetting where you are and seeing the characters for who they really are and not just terminally ill patients. Just when you think you can’t love Harold anymore you witness the hope that this ordinary man is bringing not only into Queenie’s life, but into the lives of all of those around her, a glimpse of hope when all else seems lost.

By the end of this emotional roller coaster, and with a beautifully drawn ending, you can’t help but feel privileged to have been involved in the lives of these two wonderful characters and the pleasure is all ours. It is a fitting closure to the story of love, life, death but above all hope. It’s hard to imagine Rachel bettering her first book but I have to say that she does so, seemingly effortlessly…

Written by Clair Chaytors


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