My love for Harold Fry has been well-documented. So, when I discovered there was a companion novel coming out, I was understandably excited by the prospect. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I loved Harold so much, but I expected the same kind of magic of Queenie. Yes, I realize that is quite presumptuous of me, and I really put a lot of pressure on this book from the get-go.
Queenie Hennessy wrote to her unrequited love, Harold Fry, to tell him she was dying of cancer. She never expected him to write back, much less set off, on foot, to visit her from the other end of the country. It panics her, because there is so much she never told Harold, and now feels like she must tell him before she dies. Queenie cannot speak any more, but she can write. Queenie takes her own journey, by writing this letter to Harold (the book) in order to tell him everything, even the hard parts.
*Spoiler alert if you didn’t read Harold Fry* Harold’s son David takes up much of his concerns while walking. Similarly, David is on Queenie’s mind the whole time she is writing. David was a troubled young man who committed suicide in his early twenties, and Queenie sees herself as holding some responsibility in that. Slowly, her part in David’s life is revealed.
As the letter progresses, so does Harold’s walk, and it becomes something she and her friends are very much looking forward to. Living in a hospice, Queenie tells of the daily life around her, and the excitement Harold’s impending visit brings to her fellow hospice patients. Some of these patients add a lot of color to her life. It reminded me of the media-frenzy of the first book.
I enjoyed the book, but not nearly as much as the first. The books takes place simultaneously with Harold Fry, but it also jumps to the past quite a bit. That made a lot of sense, and I liked learning more about Queenie, and where she went. In fact, I felt like she could have shared more of her past outside of the Harold years, and I would have enjoyed that. I really wanted to know how she got to Kingsbridge with Harold, but sadly, that part of her life wasn’t mentioned too frequently.
What really bothered me about this book was the fact that Queenie was in love with Harold. I know it probably shouldn’t have bugged me so much, but I felt it kind of tainted what I liked about the first book. I liked the fact that Harold was walking to a woman who had been a very good friend to him, and he felt he let her down. I liked that Harold and Queenie had never had any sort of illicit affair. I just liked the fact that it wasn’t about love, at least not romantic love. Also, Queenie was just so gushy about her attraction to him that it got to be a bit much over the course of the book. So I will never get over that.
I liked the parallel story, and the fact that Queenie goes on her own pilgrimage, not so different from Harold’s. She recalls a lot about her past that is painful, but necessary, the same way Harold does throughout his journey. I don’t think that someone could really read this book first, though. It is a companion novel, but I don’t think it stands alone. The book seems to rely on the reader having knowledge of the first book. Not a bad thing, but nonetheless, something to consider.