Friday, July 17, 2015

Two Quiet Novels of Unrequited Love

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

From English writer Rachel Joyce whose novel "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" was a runaway bestseller, book club darling, and nominee for the Man Booker Prize, comes a complementary book about Queenie Hennessy, the catalyst for Harold's unlikely walk across England.

I wrote glowingly of Joyce's first novel ( ) and am pleased to tell you that this, her third, is every bit as warm, loving, and heartfelt. But, it cannot stand alone. You must read Harold first to fully appreciate the story Queenie Hennessy dictates from her bed in the hospice at Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Part memoir, part confessional, Queenie's letter is to Harold. The marvelously quirky denizens of the hospice are in a state of high expectation as the news media conflates Harold's once very private, penitential 600 mile walk to ask Queenie's forgiveness before she succumbs to the ravages of cancer. But Ms. Hennessy believes that she's the one who needs to seek absolution and in so doing we readers meet a woman of passion subsumed, of love deepened by twenty years of a life alone but not lonely. If you believe that giving love is a reward in itself, whether or not it is returned, then this is the book for you.

On the other hand, if you think that twenty years is way too much time to spend pining for a lost love, then hop on board Monsieur Perdu's floating bookstore and travel with him and his unlikely followers down the Seine to Provence. Nina George's "The Little Paris Bookshop," though not as much a love song to books as I had hoped, is still a delightful summer confection.  


Jean Perdu has the heart of the best librarians. He can talk with a customer for only a few minutes and deduce exactly which book to prescribe. He considers himself an apothecary, yet this physician cannot heal himself. He is, as his name suggests, lost. Eschewing human contact, he lives on his book barge with his cats, wondering why the love of his life, Manon, left him all those years ago. We learn that Manon did send him a letter of explanation but, stubborn to the core, Perdu had set the letter aside, preferring to suffer in silence.

Not until he overhears his neighbor, Catherine, sobbing over her pending divorce does his heart begin to feel twinges of life. He suggests books. She asks him to dinner. He lends her a table. She unearths Manon's twenty year old letter and gives it back to him. What he learns sends him on a journey of discovery south to Manon's home village.

Along the way he picks up and discards various strays, not just animals but wonderfully colorful characters, like those living in Queenie's hospice, from whom Jean absorbs the wisdom of life's lessons. It is so gratifying to watch Jean's rebirth, to feel the joy as he discovers the pleasure of his physical self and the body he has left languishing for so long. Life can begin at any age if we just open our hearts and minds to it. Thank you  Nina George for the reminder.

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