The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce.
Rachel Joyce is most certainly one of my favorite authors. I very much enjoyed her two previous books and this one about Queenie Hennessy was a page turner. It’s the other side of the story from Harold Frye’s Unlikely Pilgrimage. A story of loss, love, regret and forgiveness.
Queenie was spending her remaining days in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. This was established in the first novel about Harold Frye. Now it’s Queenie’s turn to tell her side of the story and leave a letter for Harold, explaining how she loved him and confessing her interactions with his son David. (No, it isn’t a squalid liaison) She spends time describing her cottage and her beloved sea garden, explaining what each object means and how carefully she put it together. The symbolism of the objects in the garden is important to her and she explains all that in her letter to Harold.
Some of the interactions with the other hospice residents is entertaining and I loved reading about several of them. Flinty, Mr. Henderson and Barbara are brought to life (no pun intended) as they live out their final days among the residents and nurses caring for them. Other patients arrive, some of them quite young, and they die during the course of the story. Some of the situations are very sad.
*Warning: Some Spoilers *
While Queenie writes out her letter there are many flashbacks to her employment at the brewery 20 years ago and her work with Harold. That’s where it’s revealed she spent time with Harold’s son David, but she had never let him know. David happened upon her one day and knew she worked with his father. There were quite a few interactions between them where Queenie tried to help David with his interest in the classics and listening to him vent. After David’s suicide she felt she couldn’t tell Harold about it.
I suppose you are meant to feel sorry for David, him being a despondent and possibly clinically depressed, but I found him an unlikeable character all the way around. He stole from Queenie, not just money but her poems which were secured in her purse. He later publicly mocked Queenie’s affections for his father and read her poetry aloud in public, adding innuendo and distorting her words into something sordid.
When I reached the end of the book and had read the last paragraph, there was a twist which caused me to reread the previous chapter. Then I had to search the book and find the first mention of the Hospice volunteer with the French sounding name. It ties to the ending. In spite of my warning about spoilers I don’t want to write more about Queenie’s letter and my thoughts on the delivery. Would love to know what anyone else thinks of that missive sent to Harold from the Sister at the Hospice.
Wonderful story. Please give us another one Ms. Joyce.
Adding my review to Goodreads and the The British Book Challenge.