A couple of years ago I read a book for the West End library’s Book club called The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I was a part time clerk there and loved my monthly meetings with the Book Ends Book club. The month we read Harold Fry I was traveling so I checked out the audio book and began my auditory trek through Rachel Joyce’s novel. After I finished, I realized it had a companion novel, The Love song of Miss Queenie Hennessey. I burned through the followup, listening to the audio book on lunch breaks in my car. In short, I loved the books. To this day they are still on my top ten to read list; I recently recommended both titles to a patron and gushed over how much I still loved them.
Harold Fry is recently retired and living in a small English village with his wife, Maureen. One seemingly ordinary morning Harold receives a letter from an old work friend, Queenie Hennessy, who is writing to say good bye. She is in hospice and wanted to reach Harold before she passed. Harold is noticeably shocked and immediately writes a reply to take to the post office. Deciding to walk the letter to the mailbox himself, he goes to the corner box to deposit it but then continues to the next box, and the next, and the next, thinking about his past and his friendship with Queenie. With one small encounter, Harold decides to walk the 600 miles to deliver the letter himself…in his yachting shoes. Throughout the story we get a glimpse into Harold’s life, his friendship with Queenie and his strained relationship with his wife.
The companion novel is the same story but from the standpoint of Queenie Hennessey. We read that she is in bed writing out letters to say goodbye when Harold Fry calls the center to let her know that he is walking to her. Understandably, she is astounded that he would attempt such a feat. Queenie turns to a new volunteer for guidance on how to handle the possibility of seeing Harold again. She suggests that Queenie writes out everything she’s been wanting to say to him these last 20 years, which turns into her love song.
What’s fantastic about these two books is that they could be read as unconnected novels and still impress the reader. I read Harold Fry thinking it was a stand-alone and felt as if the story was wholly complete. The companion novel felt like a bonus and further insight to an already well-formed story. While the stories dive into the friendship of Harold and Queenie, you get a chance to read into their separate lives and the paths they took once they parted ways. I personally don’t cry when it comes to books, I know…it’s terrible, but I found myself misty eyed when nearing the last chapter of both books. I highly recommend these two novels but be warned, you may find yourself surprisingly attached to the characters.