I chose to review The Long Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy from Random House Canada on a whim. I’d never read anything by Rachel Joyce before, but I was feeling romantic — my best friend is marrying my cousin in a few weeks and I’ll be celebrating six years with Alex next month, so why not.
When you meet Queenie, she has just sent a letter to the love of her life, Harold Fry. She tells him that she is in a hospice, that she has terminal cancer and the end is near. She is remembering her past and thanking him for his friendship. She claims to be at peace but thoughts of him prove otherwise. Harold writes back, telling her to wait for him. He will walk the length of England to see her. She thinks it’s impossible to wait, she fears that she’ll never get the chance to tell him the truth. When a new volunteer suggests that she writes Harold a letter explaining everything Queenie reluctantly agrees.
Queenie didn’t win me over right away, it happened slowly, growing with each memory she wrote down. Her love and passion for a married man bugged me at first, and then just made me sad. Imagine loving someone for twenty years and never letting them know. Imagine holding onto secrets and guilt, letting it eat way at you while you become a recluse. Imagine having to run away to save a life in order to diminish your own.
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is not what I expected. Yes, love played a huge role in this novel but so did change. Personal growth, honesty, acceptance, and letting go of things that you can’t control overshadowed the love that Queenie had for Harold at some points. During those moments the characters came alive in an unbelievable way. The characters who shared the hospice with Queenie became prominent, funny, and beautiful — from the blind to the deaf to the old and cranky. Queenie herself become more flawed and extremely loveable.
“We write ourselves certain parts and then keep playing them as if we have no choice. But a tardy person can become a punctual one, if she chooses. You don’t have to keep being the thing you have become. It’s never too late. (Page 89)
I didn’t know that a novel could open up a new place in my heart, a place where change and growth are no longer daunting but part and parcel of loving myself. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is an absolutely stunning journey that will keep you waiting and reaching for tissues until the year last page.