Book Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
The novel details the story of Joy Davidman, a mother of two who is stuck in an unhappy and abusive marriage to an alcoholic writer. One day, after her conversion to Christianity, she learns of Lewis and begins to write to him to discuss Christianity, her conversion, her writing, and eventually all aspects of her life. He becomes a close confidant and friend, guiding her in her new Christian life and also helping her through the difficulties she faces at home. After a visit to England and meeting Lewis in person, she starts to find herself and discover a new path toward happiness. She leaves her cheating husband and takes her boys to England to begin anew. Once in England, Joy and Lewis' relationship grows even stronger, until a tragedy forces them to see the truth in their hearts and find some happiness in the end. Throughout the novel, Joy also influences Lewis' writing and even writes Till We Have Faces together with him. Through her, he is able to rediscover new aspects of his writing and publish some of the most famous works he is remembered for today.
It is hard to judge the authenticity of this novel, since both Lewis and Joy have long since passed on. I am wary of reading fictionalized accounts of a real person's life, but this story was so engaging and relatable that I couldn't put it down. Their relationship is such a slow burn, developing slowly and meticulously, that I couldn't help but keep turning the pages to find out when they would finally get together. The story is derived from letters and input from Joy's son, so there is a level of realness that we can trust. However, it is hard to discern reality from fiction, which speaks to Callahan's ability to weave the primary sources into her narrative; but, it makes it difficult for the reader to know what is purely fiction and what may have actually transpired between Joy and Lewis. The focus of the story is Joy and it is wonderful to see her journey and how her faith and love completely changes her life and her sense of self-worth. She grows into a strong, independent woman who eventually discovers who she really is and what she needs to feel fulfilled. Callahan's writing style is great and easy to follow, and she writes in a way that engages the reader, pulling them in and not letting go. The plot unfolds slowly, revealing the relationship slowly and in a realistic way; the ending, however felt a little rushed. The character development is one of the biggest successes of this novel. Every character, great and small, are developed with such a realness and a completeness. Each character plays an important role in the progression of Lewis and Joy's relationship, and Callahan makes sure that readers can see how they evolve and grow as the novel progresses. Callahan also writes the book in such a way that those who know little about Lewis can easily follow the narrative without having a deep understanding of Lewis's real life. I knew little about Joy Davidman and this novel introduced me to the wonderful woman that made C.S. Lewis most happy in his last years of life.
Overall, this is a wonderfully delightful novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I question the validity of some of the events of the novel, but this is categorized as historical fiction. And it is a great addition to the genre indeed. I would recommend this book to everyone, Lewis fan or not, who enjoys a great historical fiction tale about love, relationships, and the power of discovering oneself.
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2