The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, by Rachel Joyce

queeniehennessyThe last book I’m reviewing this year is NOT the last book I read this year. It’s a book I read and loved back in the spring, posted the draft of a review for, and then … forgot to write the review. But I’m glad I realized that before the end of the year, because it was actually one of my favourite and most engaging books this year.

Queenie is the companion volume — not a sequel — to one of my favourite books of 2012, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. In that novel, a message from an old friend, Queenie Hennessy, who is now dying, is the catalyst for Harold’s long and strange journey across the length of England and into the depths of his own life. Queenie remains a shadowy figure throughout that book; though she is the ostensible reason why Harold is inspired to walk, it becomes clear that Harold never really knew Queenie all that well, or understood why he was important enough for her to reach out to after all these years.

The story is complete when you read Queenie’s side of it, which is as poignant, beautiful and insightful as Harold’s. Queenie steps out of the shadows in this haunting novel to become a fully rounded person with hopes, loves and fears. The other character who moves from two- to three-dimensional in this book is Harold’s son David, who skirts the edges of his father’s story but becomes a living, breathing person in the pages of Queenie’s book, as we realize that his father’s friend and co-worker knew David, in some ways, much better than his own father did.

There are tragedies at the heart of both Queenie’s and Harold’s stories, so this could never have been a story with a simple happy ending. But it is a story that reminds us of the tremendous potential, even in the midst of tragedy, for moments of kindness, warmth and human connection. I am so glad that Rachel Joyce wrote this second book, because the story would not have been complete without it.

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