The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennesy: The (un)Reality of Death & Other Happy Thoughts

by - September 20, 2016

People are not easy to know. 
They're not easy to know, so if you don't tell them how you feel, 
you're not going to get anywhere. 
Nina Simone

So who'd thought that people on the verge of dying of cancer could be so entertaining?

I was quite apprehensive when starting Rachel Joyce's The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennesy. Mainly because it starts with a hospice and cancer. Both things (and topics) I'd typically rather avoid. However, as it turned out to be, this book, this story, is anything but depressing. Yes, people die (even the odd suicide is thrown into the mix), feelings get 'complicated', but at no point whatsoever is the story depressing. It's a miracle, really. (It does however get sad sometimes). (And the ending is semi-depressing, but not full on, so....).

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennesy is -you've guessed it- about Queenie Hennesy who's a cancer patient in a hospice. The book starts with 'the first letter' she writes to a man named Harold Fry, an old colleague of her (and as soon turns out to be: so much more -to her at least). The main part that follows is a confession of Queenie. The confession that she always loved him, how she thinks she's responsible for his son's (David) suicide, how she searched for a new life (which involves a seagarden) and finally her life -and inevitably her death- in the hospice (not particularly in that order -it all gets fumbled around with). This all is set up against The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which is actually the first book Joyce has written around these characters. However I haven't read that book (yet). However it doesn't really matter, as Joyce writes at the end of the book (as a 'personal' message to the reader): "And for the record, I still would say that I have not written a sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I have not written a prequel either. What I have written is a book that sits alongside Harold Fry." Another perspective of the same story, but one you can absolutely perfectly follow without the knowledge of the other book. They sit together, but can be enjoyed apart (a bit like the 'relationship' of Queenie and Harold -never quite touching each other).

We write ourselves certain parts and then keep playing them as if we have no choice.

It's funny that I can actually relate -to some extend- to all main characters. Or at least: the drivers of the plot, the weird triangle-relationship between Queenie, Harold and David (by all means from Queenie's -and perhaps David's- perspective). Something I think that glues them together is their view, from Queenie's perspective, on the world (or how she experiences their 'being').

Queenie, among many other things, is making peace (or acceptance) with being ordinary. And as we go on with the story we actually are presented with a 'new' idea of being ordinary or just ordinary in itself. Because: what is ordinary anyway? And who decides when something (or better: someone) is ordinary? And as it turns out to be: every (seemingly) ordinary thing/person/activity/routine/whatever can be anything but ordinary -while perceived ordinary at the same time. It depends on how you look at it. Giving wonder to the world, perhaps. Putting the extraordinary in ordinary (without changing the substance of the thing/person/activity/routine/whatever). Small things (to not overuse the word ordinary) can be seen as something other or special just by looking. Actually looking. (And as later turns out to be morphine, but hush-hush about that). Therewith, as Queenie also describes throughout the book, a certain kind of language or habit that holds no particular meaning in broader sense but has in itself -within that particular context- a meaning that's only meaningful (in that way) if you belong to that context (or indeed are familiar with the meaning -or underlying meaning- something can signify).

However, like David, we want (or maybe even need) to be seen, to be noticed. To be special (and therewith perhaps even the need to be famous in some sort of way). Being other than others, being more than others. To escape from the ordinary (the beauty of the mundane). To just be extraordinary. Although it must be noted you can't write one without the other, which actually can in itself refer to the double-sided face of this 'need' to be extraordinary (at least for David): to be understood.

And then there's Harold, who doesn't understand (his son) and doesn't see (quite literally: Queenie, not so literally: unreceived love). And now, as it turns out to be from the start, this man -that doesn't understand, doesn't see- becomes the centre of the whole story. Not only by undertaking this 'unlikely pilgramige', but mostly by making the ordinary extraordinary and noticing, seeing, at least something. Therewith creating this otherwise forgotten place with forgotten stories and eventually forgotten people. Giving them a space, a moment to be alive (doesn't matter how much of it turns out to be the truth or morphine inflicted -fictional people are people after all, right?).

Don't try to see ahead to the nice bits. 
Don't try to see ahead to the end. 
Stay with the present, even if it is not good. 
And consider how far you've come.

So who'd thought that people on the verge of dying in a hospice could be so entertaining? So full of life. Or at least in some way to give you an idea, an impression, of life. Have you ever met a nun (no) that's more full of useful (debatable) advice than (what turns out to be fictional fictional) Sister Mary Inconnue? (No, most probably because she's fictional fictional, but stay with me). Don't fight the fire, be the fire. Or quite similar: Don't wait for change, be the change. The latter being in the end a bittersweet component, making 'the third letter' -and therewith last letter- semi-depressing in the 'utterly dispirited way' (and no, that's not a death joke). Therewith -to add to the bittersweet taste of life (and arguably death -therewith arguably: isn't life and death the same? We know what life is because we know what death is, amiright?)- as I saw on Facebook (of all places): "Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real." Dreams I think being interchangeble with stories. The stories we tell, we think, we imagine.

Although The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennesy was from the start an 'interesting' choice, I very much enjoyed it. I laughed, I cried and I related to the story and characters it presented. Some bits were too good to be true. Why did everyone in the hospice for instance died after a 'high'? After celebrating 'Christmas'? (Yes that one was faked, but still, the bloody neighbour finally showed up). After being married? After having a 'nice' meal together? After finally coming at peace with yourself? Honestly, I blame the morphine. Which is actually a funny twist of the story which makes you question everything you've read. Or at least everything related to the present -you've read. I've got faith enough in Queenie that the past is being left out of the morphine-hallucinations, but how about hospice life? How about Finty? Or Mr Henderson? Barbara? The Pearly King? What to believe? And does it actually matter? Does it matter that Queenie has written this confession which turned out to be unreadable? A confession that's been told, in a way? Thought about, in a way? A confession that's imagined? "Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real."


What I'm wearing: Top + Skirt - Made by me (scroll further) / Havana Hat - Gift from my parents / Shoes - Doc Martens 1461 Vegan /


Are you wondering how you could make a skirt from your grandma's curtain? 
Don't look any further!

Grandma's Curtain's Skirt, to become -literally- a wallflower:

What you'll need
  • 2x 1.40 x 0.94m one-sided (cotton) fabric/your grandma's curtain (this is cut with seam)
  • 1x 0.46 x 0.15m one-sided (cotton) fabric/your grandma's curtain waistband (you can adjust to the size needed)
  • A 20 cm zipper

Protip: Before you start working on your masterpiece, first put a needle at the upper side of the fabric/to-be skirt (makes it easier for you to recognise it).

What you'll do
  • Because I've used the whole length of the fabric it wasn't necessary for me to make the sides nice and neat. However if you aren't in such a luxury position, please do that first.
  • Sew one side of the fabrics together (remember what's top or bottom).
  • Sew the other side of the fabric together, but leave a +/- 20 cm space for the zipper.
  • Wrinkle the top of the 'skirt', using just a needle and some thread (to make the pleats). OR you could use this fancy setting on your sewing machine (which mine doesn't have, but don't you worry, you could also just use the setting with the longest gap) and sew about a centimeter from the top (starting at the zipper-side). Leave a long enough thread at the end. Now sew a second row, about a centimeter from the first row, underneath that. Fasten the loose threads on one side and start pulling, nice and gently, the other side, until the fabric/to-be skirt is as wide as the waistband (make sure the pleats are well spread).
  • Put in the zipper.
  • Sew the waistband onto the fabric/to-be skirt. Don't forget to stiffen your waistband, or do it like me (who forgot to stiffen the waistband): Fold the waistband, twice, to the inside. This way it'll be a lot 'stiffer' and about 3.5 cm wide. Sew everything firmly in place (first fasten the waistband by hand before going over it with the machine. Things tend to slip under your watch).
  • Put a seam of +/- 2 cm at the bottom.
  • Snip all loose ends and threads away (don't forget the pleating-threads) and you're ready to stand against the wall!

****EXTRA**** EXTRA****

Me vs The Rock
(sometimes we must suffer for our art)

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