It’s always a bit risky going back to characters that we’ve come across before, especially when they’re people loved by so many readers of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I had a fairly terrible time recently trying to grind my way through The Rosie Effect and I was a little bit weary of this one even though I’ve loved all of Rachel Joyce’s work so far.
This book is very much a companion piece to the predecessor rather than a sequel or prequel. Queenie is aware of Harold’s journey to see her and she sets about trying to put forward her side of the story. She feels she’s got a lot to confess and there’s so much she needs to tell him. We go right back to their first meeting and their time spent working alongside each other. It’s an extraordinary relationship, with her loving him but never confessing it without ever announcing it to him. She lives for his happiness and treasure his companionship, seeing him as a great, gentle man. She didn’t want to be anything more to him, Queenie herself a quiet person that wouldn’t wish to disrupt his life in any way, content just to enhance it any way she can.
The story of the life of this woman is a remarkable one. She gains the trust and support of those around her in building her home and her garden is a labour of love. She has to live without Harold knowing that she loved him and has great secrets she feels she must get across to him when he arrives. She reflects deeply on her interaction with Harold’s wife and son, their words and actions haunting her all this time.
Queenie is suffering through a disfiguring cancer but telling her story gives her a new life. There’s great joy in the hospice as the wait for Harold touches the lives of all, giving them something to look forward to, his words in his postcards generating great delight. Books like this could easily stray into wishy-washy sentimentality but Joyce hits the right notes just perfectly and this book is at least as good as it’s predecessor, and possibly even a little bit better.
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy will be published by Doubleday on October 9.