The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

queenie The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce.

Rachel Joyce is most certainly one of my favorite authors. I very much enjoyed her two previous books and this one about Queenie Hennessy was a page turner. It’s the other side of the story from Harold Frye’s Unlikely Pilgrimage. A story of loss, love, regret and forgiveness.

Queenie was spending her remaining days in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. This was established in the first novel about Harold Frye. Now it’s Queenie’s turn to tell her side of the story and leave a letter for Harold, explaining how she loved him and confessing her interactions with his son David. (No, it isn’t a squalid liaison) She spends time describing her cottage and her beloved sea garden, explaining what each object means and how carefully she put it together. The symbolism of the objects in the garden is important to her and she explains all that in her letter to Harold.

Some of the interactions with the other hospice residents is entertaining and I loved reading about several of them. Flinty, Mr. Henderson and Barbara are brought to life (no pun intended) as they live out their final days among the residents and nurses caring for them. Other patients arrive, some of them quite young, and they die during the course of the story. Some of the situations are very sad.

*Warning: Some Spoilers *

While Queenie writes out her letter there are many flashbacks to her employment at the brewery 20 years ago and her work with Harold. That’s where it’s revealed she spent time with Harold’s son David, but she had never let him know. David happened upon her one day and knew she worked with his father. There were quite a few interactions between them where Queenie tried to help David with his interest in the classics and listening to him vent. After David’s suicide she felt she couldn’t tell Harold about it.

I suppose you are meant to feel sorry for David, him being a despondent and possibly clinically depressed, but I found him an unlikeable character all the way around. He stole from Queenie, not just money but her poems which were secured in her purse. He later publicly mocked Queenie’s affections for his father and read her poetry aloud in public, adding innuendo and distorting her words into something sordid.

*More spoilers*

When I reached the end of the book and had read the last paragraph, there was a twist which caused me to reread the previous chapter. Then I had to search the book and find the first mention of the Hospice volunteer with the French sounding name. It ties to the ending. In spite of my warning about spoilers I don’t want to write more about Queenie’s letter and my thoughts on the delivery. Would love to know what anyone else thinks of that missive sent to Harold from the Sister at the Hospice.

Wonderful story. Please give us another one Ms. Joyce.

I offer up something Queenie couldn’t eat near the end of her days but I think she may have enjoyed with Harold Frye while they were working together. A pub type lunch of Cottage Pie with fresh beans and some deviled eggs.

cottage

Adding my review to Goodreads and Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series and the The British Book Challenge.

BBC pointed shaded.

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17 thoughts on “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

  1. I hadn’t heard of this book before. Sounds like the perfect followup to Harold Fry. And seriously, what could be better than a good pub lunch with a pint of cider or stout?

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  2. Pingback: Reader’s Workout #6 | Novel Meals

  3. Great review.

    First, a big WHOA!!! I just discovered that the elaborate personal note by Rachel Joyce that is included at the end of the audio book is NOT included in the print book. I’ll try to transcribe and post. Since you are a fan of Queenie, you’d love to read it. Joyce tells the story of how the book came into being and what she was trying to achieve. And she speaks quite personally about her father’s cancer. I was shocked to not see it in the printed (actually Kindle) edition that I also own in addition to the unabridged audio.

    I thought the revelations at the end revealed by Sister Philomina’s letter to Harold Fry were absolutely brilliant… on a number of levels. First, it makes us consider the frail and dying people we may know and reconsider whether we’ve been underestimating what is going on in their heads. Next, the writing of the letter wasn’t, as Queenie originally thought , for Harold to learn the truth. No. It was a way for Queenie to leave this earth reconciled to herself and fully alive at the moment she dies. Had the letter been readable and coherent, as we read it through Queenie’s eyes, it wouldn’t have helped Harold any. What Harold needed was his pilgrimage, not new information that actually might cause him anger and remorse.

    I was impressed with Joyce’s ambition in this project… to write about the experience of death through the eyes of the one dying. And though she was on dangerous territory at times with the possibility of descending into cliches and trite wisdom. Yet Joyce always seemed to pull off these wisdoms (often delivered by Sister Mary Inconnu, aka Queenie’s imagination) with the kind of grace and art that religious texts or self-help books fail at (for me at least).

    It’s funny that you write it was a page turner. I found that the case with Harold Fry and Perfect, but it took me three separate tries to get into Queenie. I think my problem is that I had such high expectations after Fry and Perfect. I also think that, at first at least, I really hated the fact that she was in love with Harold Fry. I somehow felt like it took something away from him and his book. More to think about. But eventually I came around!

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    • Were you able to transcribe and post Rachel Joyce’s letter from the end of the Queenie book? I’d like to read it.

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