Author: Rachel Joyce

Bookish Illumination: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (2015) by Rachel Joyce

Bookish Illumination: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (2015) by Rachel JoyceThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy on March 3rd 2015
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

From the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes an exquisite love story about Queenie Hennessy, the remarkable friend who inspired Harold's cross-country journey. A runaway international bestseller, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry followed its unassuming hero on an incredible journey as he traveled the length of England on foot--a journey spurred by a simple letter from his old friend Queenie Hennessy, writing from a hospice to say goodbye. Harold believed that as long as he kept walking, Queenie would live. What he didn't know was that his decision to walk had caused her both alarm and fear. How could she wait? What would she say? Forced to confront the past, Queenie realizes she must write again.   In this poignant parallel story to Harold's saga, acclaimed author Rachel Joyce brings Queenie Hennessy's voice into sharp focus. Setting pen to paper, Queenie makes a journey of her own, a journey that is even bigger than Harold's; one word after another, she promises to confess long-buried truths--about her modest childhood, her studies at Oxford, the heartbreak that brought her to Kingsbridge and to loving Harold, her friendship with his son, the solace she has found in a garden by the sea. And, finally, the devastating secret she has kept from Harold for all these years.   A wise, tender, layered novel that gathers tremendous emotional force, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy underscores the resilience of the human spirit, beautifully illuminating the small yet pivotal moments that can change a person's life.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

Was I ever delighted to discover that Rachel Joyce was writing a companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye! If you read my review of that one, you know that I read this book last fall for the first time. I picked up a copy in London and fell in love with the story and with its characters. A man who decides to walk the length of England to visit a dying friend? At first it may not sound all that exciting, but it was such a beautiful and moving story, filled with ordinary encounters hiding the extraordinary.

Knowing I would be able to return to a world with Harold Frye and Queenie Hennessy, but this time with more of Queenie’s story made my world get just a little brighter! The story takes place at the SAME TIME as the other book. It just focuses on Queenie’s perspective instead of Harold’s.

I am starting again, I thought. Because that is what you do when you reach the last stop. You make a new beginning.

Like Harold Frye, this novel really highlights the importance of looking beyond appearances and recognizing that people are complex individuals who deserve respect and connection. We are all striving to connect with each other, and I think that both of Joyce’s books effectively depict characters who need that kind of connection. These characters become willing to reach out so these connections form with others.

Long ago Harold said to me:

“There are so many things we don’t see.”

What do you mean? I asked. My heart gave a flip.

“Things that are right in front of us,” you said.

There’s no sugar coating how difficult life can be in this story. Queenie is a flawed and broken woman, but she’s honest about that, and through flashbacks, the story illuminates different points in her life that give insight into the woman she has become.

The place was a part of me in the same way that the past was a part of me and you were a part of me and so were my bones.

Not only does the book illuminate matters of the heart in a way that speaks to me of the book’s spirituality, the story also highlights an appreciation for the beauty of the natural world. This is revealed through Queenie’s sea garden, and her memories of the garden represent a significant part of the book, for it gives further insight into who Queenie is. She’s experienced Beauty, but beauty can reach us in different ways.

Every once in awhile you have to stop in your tracks and admire the view, a small cloud and a tree outside your window. You have to see what you did not see before. And then you have to sleep.

The last thing I wanted to mention about this book’s spiritual aspects is the notion of forgiving yourself. Queenie has to come to terms with some events in her life, and one key question for her is whether she can forgive herself for something from her past. It is with the help of others and through her own writing that Queenie begins this journey towards forgiveness. In case you haven’t read the book, I won’t say anything more.

Who Should Read This Book:

If you enjoyed Harold Frye, you will appreciate this story. But, even if you didn’t read Joyce’s other book, I would still recommend this one to you if you’re in the mood for a moving and beautiful story about broken individuals striving for connection and love in the world.

I can honestly say that this book brought tears (like Harold Frye) but it was a good kind of tears. You will know this if you read Harold Frye, but Queenie does have cancer and is living with other people with terminal illnesses in the book. But it’s definitely not a depressing story–Trust me!

The Final Illumination:

I approached this book with some particular ideas about what Queenie would be revealing and who she had been in love with. I actually was quite surprised by what I discovered, and I appreciated that element of surprise. I may have even enjoyed this companion novel to Harold Frye even more, because we don’t get much of Queenie’s perspective in the other book. And that’s ok, because it is Harold’s book and his pilgrimage. This is another fabulous book club book, like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye.

“People think you have to walk to go on a journey. But you don’t, you see. You can lie in bed and make a journey too…”

I wish I had someone else to chat with about this book, so if you read it (or are reading it) do comment below or tweet me your thoughts!

I received an e-ARC from the publisher via Netgalley and this in no way affected my review.

four-half-stars
What Katie Read

A Journey of the Heart: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

A Journey of the Heart: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel JoyceThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Published by Random House Publishing Group on July 24th 2012
Genres: Adult, Family Life, Literary, Realistic
Pages: 368
Goodreads
five-stars

“He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.

Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human” (p. 180-181).

Suggested age range: 16 and up

The Book:

Harold Fry’s life is about to change after he receives a letter from an old friend, Queenie Hennessy. This letter informs him that Queenie is dying of cancer, and she writes to say goodbye to Harold. Out he goes to post a response back, but his walk doesn’t end at the mailbox. Instead, he continues walking, intent upon completing his pilgrimage from one end of England to the next, in hopes of saving his friend. What follows is the story of Harold’s journey, but it is much more than a physical journey. As Harold meets a variety of characters and adventures along the way, he reflects on the past, and this in turn affects his present. For just as his interactions affect those he encounters, he is affected by those he meets along the way. The story is a moving narrative of Harold’s journey of the heart–a journey that ends up changing many more than just Harold.

Spirituality in Harold Fry:

Harold’s decision to embark on this impossible walk from the south of England to the north certainly reflects his spirituality, for there is hope inside of Harold that one small act can have a significant effect on a situation. Harold doesn’t claim to be religious, but I think his  story is rife with spiritual moments. As he gets deeper into the pilgrimage, his perspective on the people around him becomes deeper and compassionate. Harold experiences significant connectedness with people and animals alike, and this adds another spiritual aspect to the story. There’s too much to discuss in detail here, but let’s just say the topic of spirituality in fiction would be an amazing area of discussion with this book!

Who Should Read This Book:

This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Though Harold is older, he is a protagonist that even young readers would be drawn to, at least I think, from my own reading experience. I wanted to know about his friendship with Queenie—what was it that was so significant about their relationship? Also, what happened between Harold and his son? His journey, which includes flashbacks and reflections on his life, unfolds throughout the narrative, leaving clues here and there so the reader can piece together a fuller picture of the character of Harold Frye. And it’s a character the reader is certainly sad to say goodbye to after the last page is turned.

The Final Word:

By all means, go and read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This novel has received rave reviews from many sources, and I’m surprised it took me so long to read it myself. It was during a recent trip to London, while browsing in a bookstore, that I realized this book was perfect for my life in that moment. I was on a pilgrimage of sorts, of my own, so this story fell into my lap at the perfect time! I read it on planes, on trains, and while listening to live jazz one afternoon outdoors in Jerusalem. It’s a rich story, and one with loads of memorable quotes—so have a notepad ready to jot those down. You’ll definitely want to go back and read them again. Be warned–you may need tissue!

 

five-stars
What Katie Read
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