Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis…
About the Book:
The love story of C. S. Lewis and his wife, Helen Joy Davidman Gresham, was improbable – and seemingly impossible. Their Eros-story led to some of Lewis’s greatest works, yet Joy is most commonly known for how she died. Becoming Mrs. Lewis allows us to see how this brilliant and passionate woman lived – and why she stole Jack’s heart.
From New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters.
Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy travelled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy.
In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.
At once a fascinating historical novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all.
‘The pair of Barbary lions ambled forward, placing their great paws on the earth, muscles dangerous and rippling beneath their fur as they approached the bars. A great grace surrounded them, as if they had come to understand their fate and accept it with roaring dignity. Their manes were deep and tangled as a forest. I fell into the endless universe of their large amber eyes as they allowed, even invited, me to reach through the iron and wind my fingers into their fur. They’d been tamed beyond their wild nature, and I felt a kinship with them that caused a trembling in my chest.
They indulged me with a return gaze, their warm weight pressed into my palm, and I knew that capture had damaged their souls.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered every time. “We were meant to be free.”’
This beautiful scene appears at the end of the prologue of this novel. When I read it, I just felt a shiver, this welling of something inside me that made me feel like I was about to read something very special. This anticipation was not left dangling in the wind. Becoming Mrs. Lewis is an absolutely glorious novel. I truly loved it so much. It made me smile so often, it made me weep until my eyes couldn’t see the page any longer. It has an old world feel to it, the type of novel that is not rushed, it allows you to rest in the moments and truly feel them. The writing is exquisite and the character development extensive. It’s a completely immersive experience.
‘Desperation fuels one to believe idiocy is insight.’
This is Joy’s story. As we travel through the years with her, from that first letter she sends to C.S. Lewis seeking his advice, right through to the end of her life when she is his wife, we see the many faces of Joy: wife, mother, friend, daughter, cousin, sister in law, writer, and woman. She was loved by many, loathed by some, and through it all she was incredibly authentic and brilliantly talented. I had not even heard of her before reading this novel and now I want to keep reading about her, learn everything there is to know, experience her writing and ponder on the woman she was; incredibly brave and smart, loving and honourable, and always true to herself.
‘When I finished, my heart stretched as if waking from a long and lazy slumber, and a secret hope fell over me.’
Layered in with Joy’s story is something that will strike a chord with any woman who is juggling the various roles we take on in life. The author examines the trickiness of balancing a creative career with domestic duties, being a mother as well as a wife, the poverty women can face when getting divorced, and the struggles to be heard and taken seriously when your health is suffering; all universal themes that transcend the years and are so easily recognisable as issues women continue to grapple with today. I could relate to so much of Joy’s life, her introspection mirrored some of my own and I enjoyed how the author really dug into these themes in an exploratory fashion, not only with regards to Joy, but with the other women that featured as well.
‘There must be another way to live a woman’s life – make it our own. I want to find out who I am beyond all these expectations that fold us into a neat box. I want to unfold.’
Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a novel that quietly unfolds. It’s a real character study, not only of Joy, but also of those who are in her life. We really get to know the people in this story. It’s filled with literary conversations between writers, intellectual meeting of the minds between colleagues, inspirational brainstorming sessions between Joy, Jack (C.S. Lewis) and Warnie (Jack’s brother). There is a lot of reflection on writing as a craft as well falling deep into individual pieces of writing and what inspired them and how they were then honed to be their very best. And of course, there is a lot about Narnia. It’s so wonderful, later in the novel, to read those scenes where Joy is reading unpublished manuscripts of The Chronicles of Narnia to her sons at bedtime. One of the Narnia novels was dedicated to the boys by Jack, and it was lovely to find out in the epilogue that Joy’s son, Douglas, ended up producing the Narnia films in adulthood. This really is a novel for people who love literature, who want to know more about writers and of course for anyone who loves the works of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. I adored the arrangement of the novel. It’s broken into parts, and each part is prefaced by a line from The Chronicles of Narnia. Then each chapter is prefaced by Joy’s own words, taken from her sonnets that she wrote for years. These sonnets form a picture of her feelings about so many things, but most especially about Jack. The epilogue at the end is then prefaced by a line from The Chronicles of Narnia, a fitting end when you get there and know what it is telling you. It was just so beautifully arranged.
The love story between Joy and Jack was exquisitely rendered. It was a true intellectual meeting of the minds, two people who clicked, creatively and spiritually. Their love was hard fought for and took a long time to be realised. There was unfolding to it, not just a moving through stages but also a building of awareness, an acceptance of fate while still holding back as a means of preserving what currently existed between them. Very much a risk versus reward scenario. It was very proper, restrained, but also all consuming. You could feel the emotion shimmering in certain scenes, and it’s this depiction of love, rather than a romantic set of interludes that truly appealed to me, that gave their relationship a well of depth that I would be hard-pressed to find a match for in any other novel. Becoming Mrs. Lewis is truly a great love story, one of the greatest and most meaningful, that I have ever read.
‘I laughed in return so fully that we both bent forward to clasp our knees, leaning toward each other face to face. It was there we paused, close, only inches. It would only take one of us to close the gap, and finally our lips would touch. But for now, it was only our smiles that met across the inches of space between us.’
Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a long novel, and not one you will want to read fast. It’s filled with beautiful prose to linger over, long conversations, atmospheric writing related tours of Oxford, Cambridge and London. There are plenty of cups of tea and glasses of brandy, long bracing walks and philosophical discussions on everything from the existence of God to debates over what are the most credible magical realms. This novel filled me with joy, on so many occasions, and while it also broke my heart at times, I feel enriched for having read it. Patti Callahan is a magnificent writer and I will be making a point of reading everything she writes from here on in. I highly recommend Becoming Mrs. Lewis to lovers of literature, history and fictionalised biographies.
‘For each season I’d hiked it since, the flowers and trees had shown new faces. In fall, the leaves dropping one by one until the trees bared their skeletons, the acorns plopping to the ground like footsteps. In winter I’d crunched over frosted grass, seen the white landscape of barren trees crystallised with ice. A season later I’d swatted at nettles and memorised the woodland flowers, multihued, their faces lifted to the spring sun. Now summer, the heat and breeze mixing in an intoxicating scent of new grass and damp earth.’
Thanks is extended to Thomas Nelson via NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Becoming Mrs. Lewis for review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
About the Author:
Patti Callahan (who also writes as Patti Callahan Henry) is a New York Times bestselling author. Patti was a finalist in the Townsend Prize for Fiction, has been an Indie Next Pick, twice an OKRA pick, and a multiple nominee for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Novel of the Year. Her work has also been included in short story collections, anthologies, magazines and blogs. Patti attended Auburn University for her undergraduate work, and Georgia State University for her graduate degree. Once a Paediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist, she now writes full time. The mother of three children, she lives in both Mountain Brook, Alabama and Bluffton, South Carolina with her husband.
Becoming Mrs. Lewis
Published by Thomas Nelson
Released on 2nd October 2018