Most coming of age novels are about young people on the cusp of adulthood, but recently my dear, life-long friend Liz put me on to a beautiful story which shifts the genre to a much later generation. The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by up and coming English author Beth Morrey deserves all the high praise that has been heaped upon it. Beautifully written, the novel invites us into the life of former Cambridge graduate Millicent (Missy) Carmichael as she struggles with loneliness and contemplates her 79th birthday without her children or her brilliant, renowned historian but distant husband by her side. Ruminating on an event that happened after a party she attended while she was a student at St. Botolph’s (the same party where Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes) and a difficult choice she had to make because of it, through Missy we learn how to forgive ourselves and even find new hope and new friends in surprising places in our older years.
One of the key concepts Morrey deals with is the Greek idea of oikos, that sense of hearth and home that is much more than bricks and mortar and which speaks of family and love, security and comfort. We might describe it as a feeling of wholeness coupled with a sense of belonging.
Other important themes concern inter-generational relations and how we repair our relationships with our adult children, the changing nature of marriage as we age, the many faces of loneliness, how we learn to build a community for ourselves in our later years, and the role of young children and pets in helping us to stay lighthearted. Dog lovers will instantly warm to this book!
As the critics have written, there is nothing saccharine about The Love Story of Missy Carmichael. If you are ready for a story that invites you to go deeper and raises the kinds of courageous questions that we need to ask ourselves in this stage of our lives, this book may be just what you need. Poignant and heart-warming, it shows how we can find hope, meaning, and spiritual fulfillment in the second half of life if we are willing to move outside our comfort zone. Discussion questions suitable for book groups and an interview with the author are included at the back of the book.
I highly recommend this novel to all my Boomer and older adult friends AND to my millennial aged-children and friends as well.