by Rachel Joyce
This book comes as a companion to Ms Joyce’s previous work, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and it is Queenie’s opportunity to tell her side of the story.
In the first book, we followed Harold Fry as he walked from his South Devon home to see his old friend Queenie Hennessy in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Harold’s motivations were at time unclear and the unfolding of his story left a lot of unanswered questions. In telling her side of the story, Queenie is able to provide some of those answers.
Love Song starts at the same point as its predecessor, with a letter from Queenie telling Harold that she is dying of cancer. They have not seen or communicated with each other for over twenty years and this sudden and unexpected letter is the catalyst that kick-starts Harold’s long journey, both physically and metaphorically.
Queenie has no preconceived intentions when she writes the letter; she simply wants to say her goodbyes. When she learns of Harold’s pilgrimage she is persuaded by one of the staff of the Nursing Home to write down the things she needs to tell Harold in the form of a letter.
Reflecting on the time they spent as work colleagues, it turns out that there was more going on than Harold realised. But as anyone who has read the first book will be well aware, Harold Fry is not the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer. Queenie, however, is quite the opposite and is able to offer more of an insight into Harold’s family life than he knows himself.
Whilst Queenie’s story is intriguing and touching, for me it lacks the simplicity and good humour that made Harold’s story so enjoyable. I enjoyed to book but now as much as I had hoped. Sequels can often be disappointing, failing to match the original, and in this case, I have to admit that it I was disappointed. Not that this is a bad book – it is a very touching and compelling tale with some interesting characters. Queenie’s fellow residents at St Bernadine’s Hospice provide much of the book’s humour as they follow Harold’s progress.
The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy is a good companion but does not in my view stand up on its own, you need to read both books to get the whole story.