Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.
A year or so ago, my book club picked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It was a heartwarming story, one that was hopeful and sad and frustrating and sweet and honest and ultimately left me with some questions. You see, once Harold Fry gets to where he’s going, there are no answers to be found.
I like answers when I read.
So when I saw that there was a companion book to Harold Fry, I was initially sceptical about reading it. Did I want to read this? Did I want to go back down this road only to find that I had more questions? I’m also usually really hesitant to read books about illness and death that way. Unexpected death? Cruel ones even? I’m down. A slow, wasting illness? No thanks.
But ultimately, the pull of a possibility of answers was too great and I dove into The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.
I am so glad that I did.
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy starts with Queenie moving to a palliative care home in the final stages of her illness. She has sent Harold a letter to tell him that she’s dying. And then she hears that he’s coming to her. She only has to wait for him to walk to her and she will get to see him again. But she’s worried about seeing him because she never told him the whole truth about herself. She doesn’t want to see him until she can unburden herself. A volunteer at the hospice suggests that she writes to Harold, that she tell him the whole story.
So she does. We find out more about Queenie: how she came to find herself living in Knightsbridge and working with Harold; how she protected his job and how she found herself falling in love with him. She also became friends with Harold’s son and this is the part that she’s been hiding from Harold, that she’s dreading telling him about. Because of what happened.
And while she looks back with the help of a nun with a French name, she’s also coming to terms with the end of her life. Surrounded by a group of original characters in the same boat, Queenie learns to live in the moment and let herself experience these last weeks.
I think that I liked this book more than the original. It was easier to like Queenie and her story held more interest for me because it did provide some of the answers that Harold just never had. It allowed for a complete story. That said, I don’t think that this book will pack the same punch if you haven’t already read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
You know that I’m a sucker for endings and this ending was wonderful. Heartbreaking and surprising and perfect.
8 thoughts on “Finding the Answers: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy”
It was a good ending, wasn’t it? It seems a lot of people are liking this one better than Harold Fry, and I’ve been wondering about it. I’m on the fence about it, because it’s been too long since I read Harold for me to pick one over the other. But, I wonder, is it because most of the readers are women, and are better able to relate to Queenie? Or is it just a better book – more well-rounded, like you said? I’m going to say the latter, but what do you think?
I think that may be part of it. Harold was hard to get to know. He wasn’t super likeable – after what happened to his son he kind of closed himself off from others. And he never saw Queenie really. Queenie is easier to like, she’s easier to relate to, she gives us more of ourselves. And I think readers respond to that.
I think the appeal of the Harold book was the unusualness of the situation, his determination, but also the idea of poor Queenie at the end of it. I thought in the end, Harold was good, but wasn’t quite as deep as it would have liked to have been. I’m interested in a follow up, and you make it sound intriguing. If anything, the horrible and unflinching and unglamorous depiction of Queenie’s death – I read that Rachel Joyce’s father had suffered the same cancer.
That definitely was the appeal but I also assumed that there would be a reason for the walk, that there were answers to be had. Obviously that wasn’t possible because of the cancer she had. There are answers in this one but I don’t know that it’s the same as resolution. That said, the ending was an emotional one.
One of the reasons I liked Harold was because of his journey that allowed him to open back up to the world. He finally found a way to heal after losing his son. But, I think you’re right, that Queenie is easier to like and to relate to from the start. Except that I question how many of us would have kept everything such big secret. Most people are more selfish than she was.
I think fear is the big motivator there- she was afraid of what he would say to her if he knew the extent of the relationship. Mostly that last night.
Yes, the longer it went on, the harder it was to say anything.
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