I am often asked - who is your favourite author? Well, it's hard to narrow it down to just one. But, the books that stay with me long after the last page are the ones that move me, that make me laugh, make me cry and make me think. Stories about people. Rachel Joyce writes extraordinary stories. And yes, she is one of my favourite authors.
You may recognize her name - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was a best seller and is a book I absolutely loved. (my review) For those of you who haven't read it (and you need to) it is the story of an ordinary man who receives a postcard from Queenie Hennessy, someone he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She is dying, but wants to say thank you for his friendship all those years ago. Harold gets it into his head that if he walks to see her (from one end of England to the other) she won't die.
I remember thinking at the end of Harold's story, that I wanted to know more about Queenie's life. And I've got my wish. Rachel Joyce's new book is The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. We get to see the other side of the story as Queenie waits in the hospice for Harold to arrive. Unable to speak, and with the help of one of the nuns, she decides to write another letter to Harold - "....tell him the truth, the whole truth. Tell him how it really was."
Queenie's memories are full of joy and love, but also sadness and pain. I loved this ....."If only memory were a library with everything stored where it should be. If only you could walk to the desk and say to the assistant, I'd like to return the painful memories about David Fry or indeed his mother and take out some happier ones please."
The past and those memories are unfurled and revealed in Queenie's remembering. The pace of her telling varies and I found myself matching my reading to the story. Slowly, to stop and savour the joy and description of her beautiful sea garden and more quickly as the painful memories are unearthed.
The hospice is populated by a wonderfully eclectic group whose time is limited as well. Harold's journey and Queenie's waiting for Harold becomes part of their lives also. The nuns that work at the hospice are funny, kind and wise. Innocent Sister Lucy and Sister Mary Inconno were personal favourites. " You are here to live until you die. There is a significant difference."
Joyce says she ..."set out to write a book about dying that was full of life. It seems to me that you can't really write about one without the other - just as you can't really write about happiness if you don't confront sadness.
And she has. Rachel Joyce's writing make you feel - laugh, cry (oh yes have a tissue ready), empathize and sympathize, and might have you thinking about your own life, loves, hopes and dreams.
There are so many memorable passages in this book - Joyce is such a gifted writer. "Sometimes, Harold, the way forward takes you by surprise. You try to force something in the familiar direction and discover that what it needs is to move in a different dimension. The way forward is not forward, but off to one side, in a place you have not noticed before."
Just when I was resigned to the end of the book only being a few pages away, Joyce surprised me - with the most perfect, unexpected ending. If you loved Harold Fry's story (and I would recommend reading Harold's story first to fully appreciate this book), you'll love Queenie's too. This is one of my favourite books of 2014. Read an excerpt of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. You can find Rachel Joyce on Facebook and on Twitter.