Posted by: billpurdue | March 11, 2015

Harold and Queenie

When Rachel Joyce wrote “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”, it became a bestseller and people began asking her if she planned to write a sequel. She wasn’t – but the plot of a sequel came to her quite suddenly when she was at home one day and so she began writing “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy”.


For those who have not read the first book, the story concerns Harold Fry, a retired brewery worker living with his wife in Kingsbridge, Devon. One day he receives a letter from one of his former colleagues, Queenie Hennessy , who is now in a hospice in Berwick upon Tweed. The letter merely thanks Harold for his friendship whilst they both worked at the brewery. Harold decides to reply, but instead of posting the letter, he decides to take it all the way to Berwick and to make the journey on foot – all 627 miles of it.

The sequel, or rather the companion volume as the author prefers to call it, describes what is happening meanwhile at Berwick and also how Queenie dictates a letter to Harold, so that he will know the full story of how Queenie came to work at the brewery and of the love she felt for him, but never felt able to tell him about at the time. Though Queenie is no longer able to write legibly, one of the nuns at the hospice, Sister Mary Inconnue offers to type it for her. So, interspersed with descriptions of life at the hospice and some of the other patients who are quite colourful characters themselves, the reader learns about Queenie’s life.

I have to say that I did find the novel a little depressing at the very beginning because I expected all the action to be taking place in the hospice, but I soon got over that feeling. Queenie’s story reveals how she first met Harold and how she met Harold’s son, David, but never told Harold about the friendship. It also reveals how David eventually came to take his own life and why Queenie made the decision to leave her job and get as far away from Kingsbridge as she could, ending up in a beach house just south of Berwick. If you enjoyed “The Unlikely Pilgrimage… ‘ you are bound to enjoy this.

(for the review in The Guardian, click here)


If this type of novel doesn’t appeal, then the book which Rachel Joyce wrote between “Pilgrimage…” and “Love Song..” may be more to your taste. According to Susanna Rustin in The Guardian, “Perfect” is “more ambitious, darker and more honest.” Byron Hemming’s best friend at school told him that two seconds would be added to time (it’s 1972), but he doesn’t understand how this can be. Then one morning, his mother is distracted whilst driving Byron to school and makes a devastating mistake. Definitely one for Rachel Joyce fans.


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