Review: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
by Renée Layberry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I initially picked this up to read on its own, but my husband told me he’d read reviews that recommended reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry first. I’m so glad he encouraged me to follow their advice, because it made reading Love Song a more immersive experience. While I enjoyed Unlikely Pilgrimage, Love Song hit me in deeper places because I had greater context for this story. But even if I hadn’t had that, this book still would have kept me up until 1:30 in the morning reading to the end—and then cathartically weeping into my pillow for about fifteen minutes, as quietly as possible lest I freak out my poor husband. Yes, that’s exactly what happened a mere 6.5 hours ago, and now I have to pull my shit together and get to work.
Rachel Joyce knows how to lay out complicated emotions and motivations without it seeming obvious to the reader or even the characters themselves. I lost count of the times her words illuminated some aspect of my own emotional landscape in a way that makes the difficult and messy seem beautiful in all its wabi-sabiness. The book left me feeling like I want to be a more loving and selfless person and, in a way, see the world like Queenie did. It makes me want to craft a sea garden of my own.
Rachel Joyce is remarkably adept at telling a story by moving forward and looking back without making the arc feel jagged. Actually, “arc” isn’t the right word: Joyce’s storytelling style reveals nuances by pulling back one layer, then another, and another, and so on, until the “climax” is a thundering, aching revelation in your head and chest as you finally realize you’ve been digging towards this truth the entire time, rather than being carried along by something as linear as an arc.
By the time I was done reading I felt I’d been on a very real inner journey that went beyond the activity of reading for entertainment. No, it’s not a conventionally exciting book, but it is a riveting and exquisite book if you appreciate character study and development that doesn’t just navel gaze or indulge, but rather casts a spectrum of light on the symbiotic relationship between our multifaceted inner selves and the complicated world around us. It’s the kind of writing that can teach the reader about themselves.
Damn, this book has clearly given me all the feels. How could a book that is mainly about a dying woman in hospice be so uplifting? Somehow, it works. I’m probably going to end up talking to my therapist about it.