[Becoming Mrs. Lewis]: A Review

Happy weekend, my friends!

I am really excited to share my review of Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan today. I have anticipated reading this book for months and FINALLY got to the top of the library wait list a few weeks ago. I brought this book home and practically inhaled it in 3 days.

Initial Thoughts:

  • This book falls in one of my favorite subgenres: historical fiction based on literary figures. I just love seeing authors that I know and love put into stories. It’s so engaging to read about Lewis and things he really wrote and did. I have raved about books in this subgenre before here.
  • I loved the quotes from Joy Davidman’s poetry and excerpts from the letters she wrote to Jack. Those details make the story feel even more poignant and lovely.
  • This book makes me want to read all the Lewis work I can right now! Seriously, from Narnia to Til We Have Faces and everything in between, I am inspired to widen what I’ve read by Lewis.

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Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan tells the journey of Joy Davidman who shares a beautiful love story with C. S. Lewis. According to Goodreads: “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.

This is historical fiction but it captures the essence of it’s real characters so beautifully. It’s one of my 2019 goals to read more C. S. Lewis and I loved the chance to learn more about his life first. I felt like I was there in the Kilns watching him and Joy play Scabble or up at his Oxford rooms watching him write and edit. The realness of the characters seeps through the pages and gives shape and voice to an author so many idolize. But other historical characters like Joy, her sons, Warnie, and Tollers (J. R. R. Tolkien!) are equally developed and nearly leap off the page into my living room. Callahan beautifully blends what is known about her historical characters and her own created conversations and characteristics that fit the history.

I was inspired and delighted to learn so much about Joy Davidman. Of course, the story really is about Joy Davidman rather than about Lewis himself. Her life was complex and full of challenges. I felt so sad reading about her poor marriage and her insecurities with money and love and God. I was proud when she created a new life for herself and her sons. And nearly cried when she finally discovered true love near the end. I admired her loyalty, her work ethic, and her passion for literature and life. I felt inspired by her literary aspirations and her many strong opinions that she wasn’t afraid to share. Her blossoming relationship with Lewis is simply magical.

I love a beautiful love story and this is one of the best. Perhaps its because we have to wait for so long for Joy and Jack to finally understand they belong together in every way. Or perhaps it’s because their love is built on friendship, respect, and trust over several years. They make each other happy. They are best friends and bring out the best in each other both in their writing and life. And we get to see a million little details in their love story that show how healthy and beautiful love can be. I absolutely love the ending of this novel. I smiled and nearly cried when Jack and Joy both finally admit their deep love for one another.

The writing is beautiful and transports readers into the story. There are so many small details that create a stunning setting both of beauty especially during Joy’s first trip to Oxford and heartache back in her unhealthy marriage and strangling New York home. There are several settings in this novel in New York, London, Oxford and Scotland. But these potentially overwhelming locations are made personal by Callahan’s attention to detail. We can see Joy’s little flower garden outside her rented rooms in London. We can almost smell the tobacco and see the dated black out curtains in the Kiln’s common room. We can feel the sun on our faces hiking Shotover Hill. We nearly taste the bangers and mash at the Bird and Baby. Our breath catches with Joy’s the first time she enters Magdalen College or when she meets J. R. R. Tolkien. Bravo, Patti Callahan for such beauty and detail. My favorite descriptions were of the English setting. The descriptions of Oxford and England are fantastic. They made me ache to see England again and experience the magic and peace of the countryside. How I wish I could have been there with Jack and Joy.

If I have one qualm about this novel, it’s the length. I think it could be shorter. I understand the value of showing Joy’s changing relationship with Jack and the many years it took for them to fall in love completely. But I got restless at times. There were some slow parts in this one. I would have liked less details of life before Lewis, less details about Joy’s poor marriage (which is a bit graphic and rather vulgar at times). It also got a bit slow when we waited for Joy and Jack to fall in love once she moved to England. This is a nearly 400 page book so it does require a bit of a commitment. But even with some slow parts, the ending is beautifully done and perfectly balanced. It makes the whole experience very satisfying and proves that love truly conquers all.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and it lived up to my lofty expectations. This is a worthwhile read that made me eager to read more from Lewis. I loved the details and historical connections. This is a great book for readers who love Lewis, who love love stories, who love history and who appreciate the ways literature and writing shape people and history.

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What are your favorite C. S. Lewis works?
Do you prefer traditional biographies or historical fiction about authors?

21 thoughts on “[Becoming Mrs. Lewis]: A Review

  1. Lovely review Jane! I also wanted to read more C. S. Lewis after reading this one. I’ve been working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia since reading Become Mrs. Lewis. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this one as much as you. While I definitely enjoyed learning more about Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis, I was not a fan of Joy. I just couldn’t like her. She seemed very self absorbed to me. I also feel she came across too needy and desperate for Lewis…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Amanda! Is this your first time reading the Chronicles of Narnia? I am rereading them as well! I am on The Magician’s Nephew–reading in publication order this time and really enjoying this order! I can appreciate that Joy does seem self centered. And sometimes I did feel frustrated with her character. But I loved how she and Lewis could talk about literature and faith so candidly. And how she inspired him in his work. There was a lot she had to endure in life, I was glad to see her find love.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this one and agree with it being a little too long. When I was writing my review at my blog, I think I mentioned that I thought she tended to repeat herself.

    But other than that, I really did enjoy it. Got out and watched the movie Shadowlands right after 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: January Wrap-Up & February TBR – greenish bookshelf

  4. Jillian

    I saw you were reading this a few days ago & have been interested in your review. I was really interested in this book when it came out and grabbed a copy as soon as I could, but I DNF’d it because I found the beginning dull. Too much waiting around for something to happen, and I have STACKS of books. 🙂 It sounds like it gets much better.

    If you haven’t seen it, I recommend to movie Shadowlands. It’s about this same story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLKS0XGRYi8 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I think it does get better. But I totally get that–so many books, so little time! The beginning is slower. I think it’s much more beautiful when we finally get Joy and Jack in the same country. haha!

      I haven’t seen Shadowlands but I hear amazing things! Thanks for the link!!

      Liked by 1 person

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