Joyce (Perfect, 2014, etc.) offers an introspective follow-up to her 2012 breakout debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
Queenie Hennessy has entered St. Bernadine’s Hospice in northeast England. Cancer has destroyed her throat and jaw, and now she awaits death among "rejects, you might say...and it was a relief, a blessed relief." Word comes that a friend, Harold Fry, has learned of her illness. He intends to walk from Kingsbridge, 600 miles away. Harold wants Queenie to wait for him. What follows is a history of their fractured friendship, with her confession as the narrative’s heart. Decades prior, when the two worked together, Queenie fell in love with Harold but never revealed her feelings. "I loved your voice, your walk, your marriage, your hands, your zigzag socks...for God’s sake, everything about you." Harold had a brilliant son, David, a troubled young man—"For all his selfishness, he was as astute as a knife"—whom Queenie attempted to help. "I had promised myself that I would be a bridge between you and your son, and I was out of my depth." David committed suicide. In Queenie’s meditative memories—"There is a huge story ahead of me, and the truth is so complicated"—her remembrance of unrequited love is shared with a sometimes-funny, sometimes-sad reflection on life’s bitter end. Any pathos is mostly subsumed by wry humor and clarity regarding life’s foibles, the story ending with a beautiful twist reminding us we all journey through life as lonely, sometimes-inarticulate pilgrims.
Reading Harold Fry first will allow this deeply emotional novel to resonate more fully.