Good Reading : December January 2015
GOOD READING DECEMBER 2014 / JANUARY 2015 41 The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy Rachel Joyce Written not as a sequel but as a companion to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce’s latest novel follows the story of Harold’s friend Queenie as she lies dying in St Bernadine’s Hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The story starts when Queenie writes a letter to her friend and former co-worker, Harold, whom she has loved for 20 years. Harold writes back in the first of many postcards: ‘Wait for me,’ and begins walking the length of England (about 750 km) to see her. As Queenie waits, she pens a detailed letter to Harold in which she apologises for something big. The nuns, nurses, volunteers and the other patients at the hospice all wait too. And so follows a story about a point in life that comes to us all, punctuated by the kindness shown by the nuns – the results of which are very moving – as they teach Queenie the art of waiting and the release that comes with confession. Joyce’s secondary characters are also brilliantly created and prevent the novel from becoming too morose, providing comic relief with terrific dialogue. There’s the kind but geographically challenged and completely tactless Sister Lucy, taciturn Mr Henderson, straight-talking Finty and the shady Pearly King. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy begs to be made into a movie. If it ever makes it to the screen, I just hope the screenwriters capture the exquisite turns of phrase, such as when Harold offers Queenie his handkerchief and she says, ‘The smell of you tipped me sideways,’ and when she says of Harold’s eyes, ‘... the blue of them was so generous, I couldn’t quite think of anything else’. Joyce also succeeds in capturing the love between two ordinary people, as well as the simple pleasures when life is almost done, such as smelling a ripe peach and eating it little piece by little piece, seeing the sky before dawn, and looking at trees. It has been a long time since a novel has moved me so much. You’ll need tissues for this one. ★★★★ RG Doubleday $32.99 Reviewed by Kerri Harris GENERAL FICTION WOM word of mouth Rachel Joyce started writing after having worked as an actor for 20 years. She performed leading roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company and won many awards. She lives in on a farm in Gloucestershire. Bernadine’s Hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed.