I was, well am… a huge fan of UK author Anita Brookner. She wrote about loneliness and aloneness brilliantly. Poignantly.
Saving Missy by Beth Morrey is about certainly about loneliness. And aloneness. Two different things in my book. But it’s also a lovely story about hope, kindness, generosity and fate… people arriving in our lives when we most need them.Saving Missy
by Beth Morrey
Published by HarperCollins
Genres: General Fiction
The world has changed around Missy Carmichael. At seventy-nine, she's estranged from her daughter, her son and only grandson live across the world in Australia, and her great love is gone.
Missy spends her days with a sip of sherry, scrubbing the kitchen in her big empty house and reliving her past--though it's her mistakes, and secrets, that she allows to shine brightest.
The last thing Missy expects is for two perfect strangers and one spirited dog to break through her prickly exterior and show Missy just how much love she still has to give.
Initially I thought this book may lean towards Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine or Britt-Marie Was Here. And it does – more so the latter – a little.
Missy (Millicent / Milly) is turning seventy-nine when we first meet her. She’s estranged from her daughter over some recent conflict, we eventually learn more about. And her son has just returned to Australia with her much-adored grandson.
The book’s written in first person from Missy’s point of view, but also takes us back to what (initially) seem like anecdotes from her younger years, but (in reality) are turning points, giving us important context about the woman we meet now.
We have the opportunity to see how she met her husband Leo, who she misses greatly and understand the complexity and possible one-sidedness of their relationship. Including the fact Missy sacrificed much to not only ‘catch’ the man of her dreams, but keep him also.
Early in the book Missy comes across a couple of women who change her life. She’s reticent as she realises she’s not had many friends – her life being about her children and her husband – but at the same time obviously yearning for company or contact so she ultimately makes an effort. Nothing too overt, but reaches out anyway.
So the day ended as miserably as it began. But I still felt it somewhere – that spark. The beginning of something. Or the end. Who knows? p 17
It’s terribly sad that Missy sees herself as old and useless. Like many who are ageing she’s overly focussed on death notices and obituaries. I was very much reminded of Charlotte Wood’s latest book, The Weekend, which centres around women in their mid 70s. They live their lives with more self-appointed purpose and far less alone than Missy who sees herself as a misfit – unacceptable to those around her.
Things change though with the arrival of Sylvie (about whom I would have liked to know more), Angela and her son Otis into her life. And even more so with Bobby – the dog she takes in grudgingly.
Dogs are particularly demonstrative creatures, which was perhaps the reason why they had always made me uncomfortable. To be open with one’s emotions, to reveal one’s devotion so obviously, seemed reckless, as if inviting a knock-back. p 88
I’ve mentioned this book is about aloneness and loneliness, but it’s also about relationships – those with family and friends and how they change over time. It’s also about how we change over time, as a result of those relationships, other experiences and our own revelations. And about how we come to understand our actions and are able to forgive ourselves (and others) rather than live with regret.
Now, Missy’s home is akin to a museum to the past, pretty much untouched since she and Leo moved in in 50+ years earlier but when looking through the eyes of her new friends she realises it’s bare and impersonal, despite having an attic full of family treasures and memories. It’s served its purpose over the years though and Missy is agitated at the thought of not being able to remain there.
I found myself thinking of families and oikos, an important concept in ancient Greece. It’s not an easy idea to describe it as it can mean different things. A house or dwelling, but also the inhabitants. Home and hearth. The hearth part always interested me as I thought of oikos as kind of a rock – the rock on which a family was built. But how big a family did one need to achieve it? I didn’t perceive anything lacking in Sylvie, whereas my loneliness, my emptiness, was a balloon that bellied and dragged me away. But when the house had been full of my husband and children I didn’t notice, didn’t appreciate my oikos. Or maybe I never had it at all. Perhaps the threads of my life were always loose, always out of my control, just waiting to slip out of reach. pp 45-46
This is a lovely book. Not as whimsical as I was expecting but instead offering something a little deeper; more poignant. It reminded me of an article I read recently suggesting we need a purpose – not necessarily some lofty world-saving / magic-creating goal, but something that ensures we feel valued and have a reason to get out of bed each day.
Saving Missy by Beth Morrey is available in some locations and will be available in Australia via Harper Collins in late January 2020.
In other news… perhaps I should get a dog? (Joking… I have no fences!)
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.