"A land fashioned of someone's fairy tale, " I murmured, out of breath as we reached the top. The sunlight settled on me with such warmth as I sat on the ground, my knees tented to rest my hands. "Yes," Warnie said. "It does seem so from here, does it not?" He took in a deep breath and bent over to clasp his knees. "But it's just plain ole Oxford."
"Oh Warnie!" I said, looking to him, his baggy cuffs puddling his feet as he leaned on his walking stick. "There is nothing plain about Oxford."
"The eye of a newcomer," he said and straightened. "Let me look again." He squinted against the sun and leaned forward as if on the bow of a ship. "Yes, a fairy-tale land it is. You are very right, Mrs. Gresham."
In Becoming Mrs. Lewis, author Patti Callahan, writes about the lives of Joy Davidman Gresham and C.S. Lewis. She uses available facts (letters, biographies, etc.) to tell the story of how their paths crossed and the deep love that followed. The novel begins with Joy in New York. She is a struggling writer who is married to an alcoholic with whom she has two sons. Joy experiences a divine moment in her son's nursery which she explains as the moment when God made himself known to her. She learns about C.S. Lewis, also known as Jack, and his own transformation from atheism to Christianity and writes him a letter looking for spiritual answers. A regular correspondence ensues and Joy begins to wait longingly for each letter traveling from Oxford (Jack's home). During this time, Joy finds herself in bad health with orders from her doctor to rest which eventually results in a trip to England to pursue better healthcare and time away from day to day responsibilities. This trip of a lifetime allows her to meet her dear friend and pen pal, Mr. Lewis, and their friendship continues to develop.
I listened to this novel during my own trip to England where I spent a week with a group of women visiting many literary related places in and around London. It was a beautiful time of rest and exploration and I know it made me love this book even more. Our group was able to tour C.S. Lewis' home, The Kilns, and some of the other spots in Oxford that were mentioned in the story.
I knew just a little about Joy Davidman before reading this novel (because of some research I had done after reading A Grief Observed) and was enchanted by the the author's telling of their story. In the author's note, she makes it clear that she did as much research as possible in order to include a factual basis for the book, but that it is in fact a fictional retelling. I think expectations are key when reading books such as these and going into it knowing that it is a work of fiction is helpful. That said, I adored this book and it rekindled my love for C.S. Lewis and his works. Highly recommend for lovers of historical fiction and authors such as Kate Morton and Jojo Moyes.
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