It is said there are two sides to every story, and in The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce, which is a companion piece to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by the same author, Queenie gets to tell her side of the story.
In The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Harold Fry receives a letter from his old workmate Queenie Hennessy, who tells him she is dying. Harold writes her a letter in return and walks to the post box to post it, but instead of posting it, continues to walk to Queenie, who is in a hospice on the other side of the country. Along the way Harold reflects on his life, his relationships with his wife and son, and on his friendship with Queenie.
In The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Queenie writes her story, or song, with the help of a nun at the hospice. Queenie’s story moves back and forwards between her past, when she worked with and fell in love with Harold Fry in a brewery, and her present, of day to day events involving the other patients at the hospice, who have become Queenie’s friends.
During their time at the brewery, Queenie was an accountant and Harold a sales rep. They were thrown into each others company as they drove around the countryside auditing pubs. Harold was married, more or less happily and had no idea of Queenie’s feelings for him.
Unbeknownst to Harold, Queenie also knew Harold’s son David, first as a problem teenager then as a troubled adult. In a misguided attempt to help David and ingratiate herself with Harold, Queenie gave David money, allowed him to steal from her and take advantage of her in a number of ways which enabled him to live a selfish and unhappy life. When David suicided, Harold did something at the brewery which would have got him the sack, except that Queenie took the blame for Harold then left town, without ever telling Harold she knew his son.
As Harold walks to her, Queenie, with the help of the nun, writes her confession for Harold to read when he arrives.
The other characters at the hospice were the highlight of this book for me. Some were grumpy, others flirty or silly and most were annoying, but I actually cried several times, when the dignity and courage of the dying characters was highlighted. When the patients agreed that none of them would die until Harold arrived, I went to pieces.
Anyone who enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will enjoy and take something from The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. I think the books could be read in either order too, as they stand alone. I found this to be a very satisfying read.