Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

I was really hoping for a "highly recommend" to go along with this title, especially since I so deeply loved Rachel Joyce's first book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (see my raving review here). Alas, I didn't like Queenie's journey of waiting quite as much as I enjoyed Harold's journey of walking. I did enjoy the read, just not as much as with Harold's side of the story. Really though, if you read and loved the first book, you will certainly enjoy this second book, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

In case you haven't read the first book, Harold Fry receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy some twenty years after she abruptly disappeared from his life. She has written to tell him that she is dying. He begins to post a brief letter of sympathy, but realizes such an act is insignificant in the face of the gravity of the situation. So, instead of merely walking to the post box to deposit the letter, he continues walking, sending word for her to wait until he reaches her. The rub is that he is over 600 miles away and is not really a trained walker. Along his journey, he comes to terms with his relationship with his family and the past.

Enter Queenie's side of the story: the waiting. While Queenie lies dying and waiting for Harold to arrive, she begins the arduous task of writing out a final letter to explain her abrupt departure and to clarify things on her heart. One would think such a story would be boring, but in Rachel Joyce's capable hands, Queenie's tale spreads out like a beautiful quilt (I especially loved the characters dying alongside her in the hospice - a very colorful group).

If you are looking for something very similar to Harold's journey, you might be disappointed. However, if you can take them for two sides of a similar coin, you will catch the beauty of Queenie's side of the tale. It touches on love, guilt, regret, loss, death, patience, and hope. Here are a few of my favorite bits:

"I am someone who has always run from difficulty, and it dawns on me that I don't have to go on that way. We write ourselves certain parts and then keep playing them as if we have no choice. But a tardy person can become a punctual one, if she chooses. You don't have to keep being the thing you have become. It is never too late."

"I'd made my sea garden to atone for the terrible wrong I had done to a man I loved, I said. Sometimes you have to do something with your pain because otherwise it will swallow you."

At one point one of the nuns reminds Queenie, "Waiting is about being still. You can't keep busy every minute, otherwise you're not waiting. You're just throwing things around to distract yourself.... Whether you can wait for Harold Fry is not something you will influence by working hard or getting upset. We behave these days as if we can have everything the moment we think of it. But we can't. Sometimes we just have to sit and wait."

I enjoyed getting inside Queenie's head as she attempts to make peace with her past and to write out the confession of her wrongs to Harold Fry. It was a rich experience. I'm thrilled that my blogging friend, Amy, brought this book to my attention (since I hadn't heard a thing about it) and her book review raves a bit more about this book, if you are wanting a more enthusiastic review.

Side note: I like the American cover for this book (above) far more than the British one (shown at the left).

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