Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Other Side of a Journey

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce


Readers of Joyce's debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will know Queenie Hennessy, or at least know of her. She is the woman Harold Fry worked with, who is dying of cancer. When Harold Fry gets the letter telling him of this, he decides to walk the length of England to see her one last time. In this novel, as Queenie awaits his arrival (along with many of the other patients in the hospice), it's time to tell her story.

First, let's get something completely clear; this is not a sequel to Harold Fry. Yes, if you haven't read Harold Fry, there are things in this story that might not affect you as much, but I'm betting you'll still enjoy it. Despite this, it would probably be to your advantage to read Harold Fry before you read this novel. You see, Queenie Hennessy's story takes place parallel to Harold's story. In essence, they are both the same story - just two different versions, from two different viewpoints. It's sort of like looking at two sides of a coin, and now that we have both of them, the object is finally three-dimensional. This isn't to say that either book is incomplete, because they certainly aren’t. In other words, these two books complement each other, flawlessly. I'd be willing to bet if Joyce had thought about writing Queenie's story when she was writing Harold Fry, she might have ended up publishing them both at the same time - probably as one large volume.

As I noted when I reviewed her digital short story A Faraway Smell of Lemon, after adoring Harold Fry and idolizing Perfect, I am a confessed Rachel Joyce addict, and this novel has only increased my desire for more. This is because with this story, we find just how versatile Joyce is. Harold's story was his thoughts about his life as he walked across the country, mixed with the experiences he has along the way, written in third person. On the other hand, Queenie's first person account is in the form of a (very long) letter to Harold Fry, along with accounts of the people around her at the hospice. This letter is Queenie's attempt to confess all the things she never told Harold - her love for him, her life after she left, and even her relationship with his son.

As ordinary as this may sound, Joyce does this with such grace and tenderness you cannot help but believe she loves Queenie just as much as Queenie loved Harold. Joyce also inserts brief passages that are wildly fantastical, obviously reflecting the influence of the pain-killing drugs that Queenie is taking. What is most incredible about this book is how Joyce combines these two things - the illness and Queenie's "confession" with such delicately evocative, yet simple prose. The writing here is so poignant and heartfelt, yet so effortlessly clear that I swear, there were times when I literally kissed the cover of the book before putting it down (seriously). In fact, this lovingly written book was such an amazing read that I'm hugely tempted to go back and read them both again. However, this time, I would read them in parallel, just like their stories - switching between Harold Fry and Queenie Hennessy.

Just like with Joyce's novel Perfect, once again I wracked my brain to find some fault in this book, and once again, I am at a loss. The only exception is (once again), I wish I had read this sooner, since then it would have appeared on my list of favorite 2014 books. With her third novel, Rachel Joyce has cemented herself as a true literary talent, and I can only nod in agreement with the Daily Telegraph quote on the cover that says, "If only there were more novelists like Rachel Joyce." I can hardly wait to read what she gives us next. I can't give it less than a full five stars out of five and highly recommend it.


"The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy" by Rachel Joyce published by Doubleday (Transworld Publishers Ltd), released October 2014 is available on Kindle from Amazon, Nook from Barnes & Noble, other eReader formats from Kobo, as an iBook or audiobook from iTunes, in paperback from The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), nor or used from Alibis or from an IndieBound store near you.