I was blown away by this book by Rachel Joyce and read it in two sittings. First, you do not need to have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry before you read this. I don’t really think it matters which of the two you read first, they are companion books rather than prequel and sequel. Second, this is the most accurate portrayal of people living in a hospice that I have read, and it is not something often written about.
Rachel Joyce confronts head-on the fact of Queenie’s terminal illness, and that of her fellow residents at St Bernadine’s Hospice. But she doesn’t concentrate on their illnesses, she concentrates on their characters and in this way they form a colourful backdrop to Queenie’s story. They are not defined by their illnesses, and neither is Queenie. This is the story of her life, a story we learn because she is writing a long letter to Harold Fry.
Queenie is in the North-East of England, Harold is in Devon. They worked together many years ago. Queenie writes to Harold to tell him he is dying. He writes a reply, but instead of posting the letter he decides to deliver it himself and starts walking. That was the plot of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a book about Harold coming to terms with his own life.
This book is about Queenie’s life. Afraid he will not arrive before she dies, Queenie starts to write the story of her life – with the help of nun Sister Mary Inconnue who re-types Queenie’s handwritten notes. It is Queenie’s explanation of and apology for a wrong she did to Harold while they both worked at a brewery in Kingsbridge, Devon. As she nears her end, Queenie struggles to write, but Sister Mary quietly encourages her, lifts her when she is faltering, puts the notebook in her lap and tells her she has to finish her story.
It is so moving, and it is very funny. St Bernadine’s Hospice is a real place populated by real people and they are the fabric of Queenie’s life now. This is a book about death, and about life. It is about love, grief, difficult choices, and finally it is about making peace with yourself before the end.
Just read it!
‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy’ by Rachel Joyce [UK: Black Swan] Buy now
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LOVE SONG OF MISS QUEENIE HENNESSY by @R_Joyce_Books #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1f5