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.