The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
by Rachel Joyce
Rachel Joyce first introduces Queenie Hennessy in her debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, when Queenie writes to her old friend Harold, with whom she has had no contact for 20 years, telling him that she is dying of cancer. Harold replies that he is coming to see her and embarks upon a 600 mile journey on foot.
Following the success of that novel, Rachel Joyce had the brilliant concept that Queenie’s character and story had not been fully portrayed and thus, the book she describes as a companion novel was written.
Queenie tells her story of life and death as she awaits Harold’s arrival, whilst being cared for in a nursing home in Berwick upon Tweed run by nuns. She recounts her life with portraits of her childhood and her days as a Classics Scholar in University. When taking a new job she meets Harold, a married man with whom she secretly falls in love. Queenie’s sudden departure following the tragic death of Harold’s son David, for which she partly blames herself, results in her journey to Berwick upon Tweed, where she lives for the next 20 years creating her Sea Garden.
Between these recollections of previous years, life in the hospice is brilliantly portrayed. We are enthralled by the characters of Queenie’s fellow patients and the nuns caring for them, including imaginary characters who were a manifestation of the morphine induced haze in which Queenie was living her final days.
The Page Turners all agreed that the book was well written and extremely descriptive although some enjoyed it more than others. Following what was generally considered a slow start, the majority found that we warmed to the story, which was sad, funny and thought provoking. The scores ranged from 6 to 8.5 and averaged out to a score of 7.