A rarity for me these days, but here it is, an actual review. I’ve loved all the books I’ve read by Rachel Joyce and when I received a NetGalley widget to read Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North I risked saying yes – in the hope that I could do it justice. The only way I could do that was to sit down and try and assemble my thoughts as soon as I’d finished it. I hope I’ve done it justice, but if not, just to make it clear, I happily recommend it.
The book is another beautifully written companion piece that neatly completes the journeys (both physical and emotional) we’ve previously been on with Harold and Queenie. While it may be short, it packs an emotional punch and unexpectedly moved me to tears.
We pick up Maureen’s journey 10 years after Harold’s epic pilgrimage to visit his dying friend Queenie. This time Maureen, spurred on by Harold, is making the solo car trip up north, to visit Queenie’s Garden. It’s a place which has become a place of pilgrimage for others and having been told it has a monument to their dead son David, Maureen feels compelled to see it.
It’s not an easy journey for Maureen, and not always an easy read because Maureen isn’t an easy person. Her presence in the previous books was often a negative one and here she’s no different. She’s rude, spikey, and often unfiltered, and yet with this book we get to see inside her head and get a better understanding of why. Essentially, growing up Maureen never fitted in and didn’t know how. Encouraged by her father to believe she was special, that set the pattern for her future. It imbued her with an attitude that further created a barrier between herself and others. Yet, Harold found a way to her heart, and it was touching to get glimpses of the younger Maureen who loved him. When David was born, he became her focus, and worry, as he was another child who didn’t fit in and found it difficult to navigate his way in the world. When he died, Maureen retreated behind her wall, to which she added bitterness to further bolster it.
Maureen’s journey to the garden is beset with difficulties which she doesn’t always deal with diplomatically. Yet, what she starts to gradually appreciate is that she has a choice in how she responds. Admittedly albeit making two steps forward and one step back. Her arrival at the garden and her second traumatic visit is a turning point. It puts into focus the relationship between Harold and Queenie and forces her to acknowledge the unspoken and unresolved grief at the loss of her son David. A grief that has lodged inside her and further isolated her from the world.
Maureen’s interaction with her own ‘Angel of the North’ is the epiphany she needs to open herself up to the world, put the past to rest and move forward.
The author, as always, creates beautifully drawn characters that have real depth and emotion. She also has the knack of saying a lot with what she doesn’t directly say as much as what she does. Though this is Maureen’s story, as I read it, it’s also Harold’s. While this novella, completes the circle, it also gives us a glimpse of Harold as he is now and the future they will have to navigate together.
This can be read as a standalone, but I urge you to also read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, trust me, you won’t be disappointed.