Last week, I finished reading Rachel Joyce‘s latest novel The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and I did this without having read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry first. Some advised me against doing so, while others said it would be perfectly okay to read Queenie on its own. As I got the chance to read Queenie in a Lovelybooks reader’s circle organized by Penguin Random House UK and I never was that interested in Harold’s story, I just skipped Harold Fry.
Queenie Hennessy has just moved into a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed when a farewell letter to her old friend Harold Fry makes him walk hundreds of miles to meet her one last time. Queenie starts to write another letter to tell him all the things left unsaid. She remembers the life she had and looks back on the beloved sea garden she built herself. In my opinion, Queenie’s description of the sea garden is the most powerful picture Rachel Joyce creates in the whole novel. The drawing in the back of the book doesn’t do it justice at all.
While Queenie is reserved towards the other residents at the hospice at first, she opens up to them after a while. She is, however, a rather bland person who seems to have given up on life as soon as Harold wasn’t part of it anymore. The real stars of this novel are Queenie’s fellow residents at the hospice. I particularly like Finty and Mr Henderson who couldn’t be more different. Finty has such a great sense of humor and Mr Henderson’s development throughout the book is wonderful to witness. The most memorable scenes in Queenie without doubt include the hilarious moments spent with the residents of the hospice.
The chapters I don’t like that much are the ones that comprise flashbacks to Queenie’s time spent working with Harold. They feel hollow, as if there is something missing. I suspect Rachel Joyce didn’t want to repeat herself by writing something she had already written in Harold Fry and so she just presented us with a very condensed version of the past events. I’m afraid that by doing this, she took the life out of Queenie’s encounters with Harold.
While the middle of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy was truly gripping, the novel ended just the way it started out: a bit weak. Those who have read Harold Fry will probably love the additional information Queenie gives them. For me, the book would have been wonderful with a closer focus on Queenie’s weeks at the hospice. That would have been enough to keep me glued to the pages without dreading chapters on Harold Fry.
P.S.: I’m experimenting with different review formats right now to see what suits me best. So please bear with me 🙂