Knowing how obsessed I am with C.S. Lewis and his works (I plan to one day own them all. ALLLLLLL.) my wonderful mother gave me this book for my birthday: a fictionalized account of how Joy Davidman grew into one of “Jack” Lewis’s best friends and eventually became his wife.
I will admit, I was cautious about my excitement at first. Sometimes I’ve found that digging into the biographical facts behind a favorite author reveals disappointing details, like the literary version of “don’t meet your heroes.” I knew from other books about the Inklings’ group dynamics that some of Jack’s friends disliked Joy or thought her a bad influence on him, so I wasn’t sure how well this book would go.
Still, like Joy herself, I wanted to get to know a great man whose writing had moved me. So I plunged ahead.
What I found was not a book so much about falling in love with a man or even a favorite author, but a book about a woman falling in love with God and with who she knew herself to be. Joy struggles in her first marriage both because of her husband’s faults (alcoholic, abusive, absent) and her own perceived lack (prefers the title of “writer” to “wife,” is not a good housekeeper, resents putting her own work aside for her husband’s). Her conversion to Christianity and growing understanding of God bring her to acknowledge her own needs and to recognize that they, too, are good. I enjoyed reading about Joy’s own journey of realizing the need for constant surrender to God’s love, particularly her epiphany about seeking destructive love because true Love (in God and in a virtuous relationship with someone like Jack) is frightening.
Despite the full title (“The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis”), the story was thoroughly Joy’s own, and not too focused on falling in love with a famous man. Too often the women beside historically significant men are erased or diminished and deemed important only because of who they married or slept with. But Joy was a writer and a scholar before she ever met Jack, and she had a mind of her own.
The beginning of the book did move a bit slowly with the author’s decision to include excerpts from Jack and Joy’s letters every few paragraphs. It made the story feel very choppy, with near-constant interruptions. But once Joy went to England, it smoothed out and became an engaging read.
4/5 stars on Goodreads
Do you think there’s danger in learning too much about the authors behind your favorite books?