There’s a trend going on in the publishing world right now. If you’re aware of it or not, I’m sure you’ve seen the effects of such through your local Barnes and Noble and other indie bookstores, stacks upon stacks of new releases focused all around the unsung stories of women in history. It started with a hit a few years ago, I’m sure you remember the insurgence of Hidden Figures, the story of the black women behind the Nasa Space Race that took over bookstores and movie theaters near you. And since then, at least on a yearly basis, a new book has been published about unsung females. Going into the end of 2018 and into 2019, there was an explosion of biographies or biopics. From Einstein’s wife, to Patti Smith’s memoir, to the beloved wife of C. S. Lewis.
Unlike the others, unlike the women that were shoved into their husbands’ shadows, the story of Joy Davidman is not an unhappy one. Although, it was set up to be one. Fate brought Davidman trial after trial, test after test, her entire life was built on pedestals of misery. Since she was a child, Joy was ravaged by colds, disorders, infections, and syndromes. After each bout, Joy had a part of herself, her health and her strength, forever chipped away.
The story starts with Joy at a precipice in her life. Worn out and trapped in a loveless marriage with fiscal chains around her limbs, Joy can either set into her life for good or do something to change the course of her life. She chooses change. After some years of penmanship with the C. S. Lewis, she is off to England to regain her health, her strength, and meet her famous friend. How often does one get the chance to match the mind of Narnia with the charisma of the author?
After some weeks in England, drinking in the weather, the land, and the people, Joy returns to her home with choices to make in worsening situations. She had to decide upon her future, her boys’ future, and which family members were toxic or beneficial.
Joy’s life is a modern tale stuffed into the past. Rather than only being a wife, a role she mostly detested, she was first and foremost a writer and editor. She was a mother, one who encouraged curiosity and imagination rather than being the cardboard cut out society demanded at the time. She was a sexual person as well, in an age where sexuality was stuffed into dark corners and closets. She wanted love, success, and happiness. She didn’t accept the rules and structures that were enforced upon her, either by her husband, parents, or brother.
The end of Joy’s story is truly miraculous and happy and being a cynic that we are as readers, its nice to read something true and beautiful. It’s not something that occurs often, especially in this day and age, so its a rare opportunity readers should take advantage of.
Having said that, however, there were moments that I wish the author rewrote. Let me preface what I am about to say by excusing the ambiguity of the following statements, I am going to try and critique a portion of the story without revealing too many of the specifics.
Throughout the book, there is a theme of religion, questions and theories are mentioned and considered specifically throughout the book. Because it happens so often, if the writer had been more brief at times, the story would have moved a lot faster rather than maintaining the constant and slow pace throughout the entirety of the story. Although I enjoyed reading Joy Davidman’s life, it also very much felt like I was reading someone’s entire life. If that makes sense.
There was also numerous moments when the religion was referenced within the piece, and rather than just mentioning it to aid the story or to fill in the characters’ thought processes, the author used the religion to try and convince the reader what was happening. Other than the simple fact that I don’t need to believe in the religious aspect of the story to understand it or enjoy it, it once again slowed down the entirety of the story. It made me want to skip all of the religious aspects of her tale just because they occurred so frequently and so much time was spent on them, which is a problem because it did have such an impactful role in Joy’s life.
But other than that, as someone who knows the story of Narnia, reading about the people and authors behind them was a great enjoyment.