BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy’: Harold Fry & Queenie’s Story Continues

 Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

I’m writing this review of Rachel Joyce’s “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” (Random House, 384 pages, $25.00) with one hand tied behind my back.

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy': Harold Fry & Queenie's Story Continues

Not literally, of course (I’m a touch typist and need both hands!) —  figuratively. Let me explain. Queenie’s story follows Joyce’s best-selling “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.” I haven’t read this book, which puts me at a disadvantage. I’ve ordered a review copy, so my take on Queenie’s story, written as she is a patient in a hospice, with terminal cancer, may be altered when I read Harold’s story. Then again, it might not be changed. Queenie’s story is powerful enough to stand on its own sensibly shod feet.

Random House publicist Jennifer Garza — one of the best in the business, by the way — wrote me:

“When Harold was first published, a few people asked Rachel if she would write a sequel. She assured them that she would not; she felt she had said all she needed to say about Harold and his wife, Maureen. But what about Queenie? Rachel will tell you that one day, out of the blue, Queenie shouted, “Here I am!” In that moment she knew she had to write her story. She could not ignore this character’s voice inside her head. Sequel, prequel or companion novel? The starred Booklist review says it best: “[A] beguiling follow-up… In telling Queenie’s side of the story, Joyce accomplishes the rare feat of endowing her continuing narrative with as much pathos and warmth, wisdom and poignancy as her debut. Harold was beloved by millions; Queenie will be, too.”

All of this introductory material — which many readers may find unnecessary — is important because it puts  my review in context.

I loved Queenie’s story. She’s near the end of her life and writes Harold from the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland in the far northeast of England — almost 500 miles from where they formerly lived in Kingsbridge, south Devon in the west of the country. She met him 24 years before, she applied for and got a job at the brewery where Harold worked.

She was hired as an accountant, traveling with Harold (she didn’t have a driving license) to pubs to check their books. Following the initial  correspondence, she learns that Harold is walking to the hospice with the hope that as long as he keeps walking, Queenie will stay alive. The story of the two goes viral, as one could expect in this age of social media.

Queenie writes lovingly and incisively about the residents and staff of St. Bernardine’s Hospice. With flashbacks to the days in Devon, we learn about the relationship of Queenie and Harold and how they managed to keep their employer Napier satisfied with their job performance — no easy task. Queen found the job through a want ad in a local newspaper. She’s frank about her lack of accounting credentials: she graduated with a degree in classics from Cambridge University.

That leads to another key element in the novel:  David, Harold and Maureen’s teen-age son, who befriends Queenie. Learning that she went to Cambridge, David decides to go there too. I won’t reveal any more because that would spoil the story.

A key part of the Queenie’s story is her beach house and sea garden. There’s a drawing of the house and garden in the front of the book. I loved this part of Queenie’s story of her life.

Rachel Joyce has a winner in “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.”

UPDATE: I’ve received my copy of “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. I’ve read about 100 pages and it’s marvelous!

Rachel Joyce

Rachel Joyce

About the Author
Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Perfect. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was short-listed for the Commonwealth Book Prize and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into thirty-six languages. Joyce was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards New Writer of the Year in 2012. She is also the author of the digital short story A Faraway Smell of Lemon and is the award-winning writer of more than thirty original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4. Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire.

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