The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey (review)

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey (Edelweiss DRC)
Rachel Joyce
Random House

We expect our happiness to come with a sign and bells but it doesn’t.

When The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce was published in 2012, the novel was short listed for the Booker Prize and won UK National Book Award for New Writer of the Year. And it was that good. Harold Frye, a kind of work-a-day Everyman, goes out one day to post a letter to an old friend who has written to say she’s dying and finds himself walking from one mail box to another until he’s out of the city and into the countryside. A couple miles out, Harold decides he’ll just keep on keepin’ on and deliver the letter himself. He calls the hospice where friend Queenie now lives and asks the nurse to give her a message: “Wait for me.”

Along his nearly 700 mile pilgrimage, Harold reflects on his marriage, his failure as a father, his lonely childhood, and his pedestrian work life (pun intended). Harold dutifully calls his wife Maureen each day and buys souvenir trinkets along the way for both her and Queenie. Writer Joyce also gives the reader Maureen’s point of view and we can begin to unravel the pain and hurt that has scarred this couple for the past two decades. After some little publicity, Harold is joined along the way by a rag tag bunch of followers who co-opt his mission, but he ends his journey as he began: alone. His goodbye to Queenie isn’t what he (or, probably most readers) quite expected.

In her second novel, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennesey, Joyce tells the story from Queenie’s end. And I must say, I think it’s the better novel.

Love Song of Miss Queenie HennessyQueenie Hennessey, thirty-something and pregnant, moves to Kingsbridge to start anew after a love affair gone wrong. Oxford educated, she’s floated through life, rudderless. Moored by the pregnancy she applies for a job as an accountant and refuses to budge from the office of the misogynistic factory boss who won’t interview a woman for the position. Her tenacity pays off and Queenie begins work, almost just as her pregnancy ends in miscarriage. But in the pain of losing her baby, she’s touched by a stranger–one Harold Fry, a diffident man, rather timid, and very tall. Because she needs to visit the brewery’s accounts scattered around the county and because she is a woman, the brewery boss Mr. Napier delegates Harold to drive Miss Hennesey to her appointments.

And so begins their ten year friendship. Queenie sees it at her job to make the uncomfortable Mr. Frye relax a bit, and he, in turn, treats her with gentlemanly respect and kindness. Queenie finds herself in love, but never speaks of her feelings. After several years, Queenie meets a belligerent (and probably drunk) young man on the street, immediately recognizing him as Harold’s son David. The two begin a secret friendship of sorts, neither mentioning Harold.

As often happens when secrets are involved, tragedy strikes. Queenie sets out again to begin anew, settling far away in a beach cottage in Northumberland where she creates fantastical natural sculptures in her beach garden—figures of driftwood, draped with seaweed and strung with shells. Queenie finds whatever peace she can until cancer strikes, disfiguring her and robbing her of speech.

In hospice, Queenie is cared for by tender and rather eccentric nuns: Sister  Lucy, Sister Philimena, and Sister Mary Inconnu. When news of Harold’s pilgrimage reaches the residents, they follow his trek via the post cards he sends Queenie and whatever news they can find in the newpaper or on television. To help Queenie come to terms with her life and loss, a Sister Mary Inconnu helps her write another letter to Harold Fry, but not “the sort of message he might expect from a gift card. Tell him the truth, the whole truth. Tell him how it really was.”

And so she does. Queenie’s story is, I think, more honest than Harold’s in Pilgrimage. Her voice is tender and raw and so much poetry: “Now that I have shaped the songs in my head and placed them on the page, now that my pencil has turned them into lines and tails and curls, I can let them go. My head is silent. The sorrow has not gone but it no longer hurts.”

Oddly (or maybe not) I read the two novels out of sequence. I got Love Song as an advance reader’s copy and liked it so much I wanted to hear Harold’s story, too. Both books would make a lovely gift pair and both stories are a testament to the extraordinary grace of ordinary lives–but it is Queenie’s words that are  with me still.

February gifts and graces

the little Jeep that could ♥ red, red wine ♥ snowblowing ease ♥ a novel journal ♥ again and again ♥ doggie love ♥ butterfly meadow ♥ birdfeeder, all aflutter ♥ a tenting we will go ♥ nap, well-taken ♥ greasy pizza yumminess ♥ heart-broken crash ♥ Gorilla glue ♥ creamy avocado ♥ free night for homemaking ♥ stumbling over Shakespeare ♥ wind-up februarymonkey ♥ steadfast ♥ bread & wine ♥ welcome with smiles ♥ love lost ♥ sober truth ♥ losing pride ♥ finding strength ♥ making peace ♥ shade tree’s summer peace ♥ black shadow-cat ♥ there but for the grace of God ♥ Truth with a capital T ♥ ticket to laugh ♥ uncountable rocker hours ♥ a teacher’s heart ♥ marriage blessing ♥ a home for Buddy-bear ♥ snow day French toast ♥ fatoush with a love ♥ walkabout ♥ grays that I’ve earned ♥ bubbling mac ‘n cheese ♥ baby blanket, soft and silky ♥ a step forward ♥ melting heart ♥ I Love Lucy ♥ Fr. John ♥ rusty red tobacco tin ♥ pretty, pretty planner ♥ an awful August night ♥ eye crinkles

You can learn more about the Joy Dare on Ann Voskamp’s blog A Holy Experience (link).

Turn the page–start a new chapter

turn the page

The long and dreary days of winter are coming to a close. Doesn’t seem likely considering the sub-zero temperatures we’ve had here in the Great Lakes that even cancelled many schools last week. But, alas, all good bad things must come to an end and we’re almost (and, yes, in only two months we will be finished with April showers and on to May flowers) to the chapter that reads “Daffodils! Robin Redbreasts!” At last.

And it’s just about now that those of us who started the new year with impressive resolutions find them almost forgotten and certainly neglected. *heavy sigh* We want to change … but it’s hard work. I, for instance, am undertaking a 52 Weeks To An Organized Home challenge. (You can read about it here .) I loved the fact that the to-dos were manageable: 15 minutes every day. Except I front-loaded the list and accomplished what I could while I was on winter break, knowing life would get hectic once I was back to school.  My kitchen counters, cupboards, and pantry are dreamy. Underneath the sink and my spice cupboard are another story.

We dream big, forgetting that resolutions take place in our head–actually carrying out our grand schemes requires we get down and dirty. In typical human fashion, we probably expect too much too soon.We want to re-title our book, when maybe all we need to do is turn the page and move on to the next chapter. So an organized home? Probably not. But the kitchen chapter of the challenge is just about finished, and when it is, I’ll push ahead–but meeting that challenge on my own terms.

So  take a page out of Winter’s book and let yourself move on. When the time is right.

I Love Lucy ♥

I love Lucy.

No, I mean I really love Lucy. I’m not your run of the mill Vitameatavegamin-candy-factory-grape-stomping kind of fan. My fan creds?  Well, I’ve been to Lucy’s hometown in Jamestown, I love lucy triviaNew York where I toured the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy. My husband and I drove  to nearby Celoron to get a peek (and a pic!) of her childhood home, which, by the way, is cute as a bug’s ear as Lucy might say. My small library of Lucy books runs from reference to coffee table. Of her early Metro Goldwyn Meyer girl films, Stage Door is my favorite and of course I have my very own copy of The Long Long Trailer. (Even my favicon on this blog is even a nod to her in the initial we share.) And on my Bucket List? The annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival held in Jamestown, really as much to see all the Lucy impersonators as anything else.Lucille Ball

When our TV situation allowed, I’d watch Lucy episodes with my reference books at the ready, waiting to pick out the gaffs and highlights. The Lucy Book by Geoffrey Fidelman is especially handy because the show’s directors, writers, and editors (as well as some of the actors) comment on each episode of her fifty years in television. It’s a trivia Lucy lover’s dream come true.  But nothing can beat Lucy At the Movies for chronicling her fifty years in film and being just plain gorgeous, like Lucy herself.

Of course if you love Lucy and Desi, you also know the story of their personal lives—how they rose to great power in Hollywood, how Desi chaffed at being “Mr. Ball” then occupied himself with a series of dalliances, how they struggled to continue their legacy with the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour even as their marriage crumbled. We wanted to believe, didn’t we? But love Lucy, Desi did, despite it all. Lucy called Desi on what would have been their 46th wedding anniversary, just days before he died. Their conversation, apparently, included I love yous.

Lucy was loud, she was pushy. She was naive and open-hearted. She loved her man and boy could she work those fifties fashions with cinched waists and crinolined skirts, or trousers with legs up to here.  My own sweetheart knows just how to woo me—my Valentines gift this year were tickets to see the I Love Lucy Live On Stage show touring the U.S. It’s silly, but oh so fun. (Here is a montage of some of the scenes).  The premise is that the theater audience is the studio audience for the filming of two I Love Lucy episodes, complete with commercials for Halo Shampoo, Chevrolet, and Brylcreem. Nothing too deep here. But I clapped. I laughed.I loved Lucy.