The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

A companion to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and every bit as affecting, sweet and sad.

love song

Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry won many fans with its bumbling but likable protagonist and his improbable journey across England and through his own troubled life. Harold appears off-screen in The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey, in which Queenie replies to the postcards he sent her in Pilgrimage. Readers will be delighted to rediscover the action of the first book, from a very different perspective and with considerable added detail on Queenie’s side. Those considering Pilgrimage should definitely start there, as Love Song comprises one big spoiler. However, it’s not necessary to have read the first to enjoy this second novel.

Love Song begins when Queenie receives Harold’s first postcard. She has written to him from hospice care, sharing the news of her impending death. Harold sets out to visit, asking her to await his arrival. Queenie is startled and alarmed. She has kept an old secret from Harold that she had intended to take with her; she now decides she needs to come clean.

Joyce alternates among three timelines: in real time, as Queenie waits for Harold while composing a long letter of explanation; their separation 20 years ago, when she fled life’s complications; and their original meeting and developing friendship. While the present-day setting is inarguably dour, the action in all three stories is fresh, compelling and deeply emotional, and Queenie’s fellow residents create a charming little world of their own. Just as in Pilgrimage, a major revelation at the end amplifies the impact of an already powerful book.

This review originally ran in the March 10, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 8 painted nails.

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