In a most improbable friendship, she found love. In a world where women were silenced, she found her voice.
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 traveled 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.
I thought it would be neat to read a biographical novel on the American wife of Christian writer C.S. Lewis. I then received a hardcover copy from the publisher.
I’ve read only three titles of the Narnia series, and only two of C.S. Lewis’s non-fiction books. I watched Shadowlands once and didn’t really enjoy it. I never visited Oxford, despite living in Britain for 22 years. What do I know about the former Atheist turned Christian? How much would I need to know in order to enjoy Becoming Mrs. Lewis?
It turns out that the answer to both questions is “not much.” This was a book I had difficulty in putting down. I loved the flow of it. It’s written in the first person, from Joy’s perspective, starting with the moment she found herself on her knees and praying to a God she thought she hadn’t believed in. While it doesn’t cover the minutia of her life, the narrative does focus on pivotal moments over a period of some 14 years until her death in 1960. There are portions of letters, but these passages are mostly from Patti Callahan’s imagination. She took what she could from known writings by Jack and Joy, and filled in the gaps. Despite that, however, I heard Douglas Gresham – Joy’s son – say in an interview that it’s “extraordinarily accurate in many ways.” (And I wish I’d made note of what interview it was!)
Each of the main characters, Joy, Jack, and her first husband Bill Gresham, created different feelings in me. This Joy is far from perfect. She does things that many Christians won’t do, such as having intimate relations with men outside of marriage, and drinking. Nothing is graphic. But it reminds us that Christianity is about growth. Most of us don’t change the moment we become Christians. Instead, we develop and mature spiritually in a gradual process. I love the portrayal of Jack. I could imagine him with his booming and oh-so-proper English accent. It encouraged me to look up a rare recording of him. In sharp contrast, Bill Gresham doesn’t come across as a swell guy. I can only wonder what he was really like. What does Douglas Gresham make of this version of his father? Is it as accurate as the rest of the book?
The final chapters deal with Joy’s illness and are probably the most profound. This is the time when Jack realized he was in love with Joy, not just that he loved her as a sibling or friend. The last pages of Becoming Mrs. Lewis are comprised of an epilogue, written in Joy’s voice beyond death. The first time I read it, I was reduced to an emotional wreck. I’ve read it three times now, and it still brings me to tears. This passage is a perfect finish to an amazing love story: their love of God, for each other, and for words. It is utterly beautiful.
Thank you to Thomas Nelson and Fiction Guild for my complimentary copy of Becoming Mrs. Lewis.
Have you read Becoming Mrs. Lewis? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (a division of HarperCollins Christian)
Publication Date: 02 October 2018
Page Count: 416
(note: this review is being cross-posted to my other blog, McCombs on Main)