*I received a free ARC of this book with thanks to the author and Hodder & Stoughton. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: A poignant ode to love and the memories that make a well-lived life, from the author of THE SINGLE LADIES OF JACARANDA RETIREMENT VILLAGE
As the wife of retired ship’s doctor Dr Henry Parker, Evelyn is living out her twilight years aboard the Golden Sunset. Every night she dresses for dinner – gown, tiara, runners – and regales her fellow passengers with stories of a glamorous life travelling the world in luxury, as well as showing off her superior knowledge of everything from ships’ customs to biographical details of her heroine, Florence Nightingale. The crew treat her with deference. And forbearance.
But when Henry goes missing, Evelyn sets off to search every part of the grand ocean liner to find him, casino, nightclub and off-limits areas included.
Misadventures are had, new friends are made, scandalous behaviour noted – all news to Evelyn. If only she could remember the events of the night before as clearly as she can recall the first time she met Henry on a passage from England to Australia in 1953 and fell in love, abandoning her dreams to become a midwife to be a wife instead – and the long-ago painful events that left Evelyn all at sea.
Why is it so hard to forget some things and so hard to remember others? And where is Henry?
This wonderful story utterly broke me!
In my student days, I worked in a number of different nursing homes, caring for those with dementia and Alzheimers, so I am familiar with the effects of these conditions from a spectator point of view. What Joanna Nell manages with this story is to give us the experience from the inside view, and she does it in a way that feels completely authentic.
Evelyn Parker, the main character, may be elderly, but she is no ‘old dear’. She is fiercely independent, stubborn, fiery and proud, just as she was in her youth. And therefore she has no intention of letting anyone know that she is having a few minor problems with her memory. Nothing to worry about. After all, she has always had an exceptionally good memory. Clearly this is just a little bit of age creeping up on her. And it would help if other people didn’t keep muddling things by moving things around unexpectedly. Like doors. Or dinnertime. Or themselves.
Still, it will all be fine, if only Evelyn can find where Henry has got to. But no one seems to want to talk about that, so the only thing to do is to go and look for him herself.
The story that ensues is heartbreakingly sad. Devastating. Anyone who has had a relative with dementia or Alzheimers will feel distraught as Evelyn desperately clings to her memories and lucidity as best she can manage. However, this is NOT a maudlin story, and so you also find yourself snorting with laughter as Evelyn gets exasperated and puts the whole world firmly in its place for refusing to stay where she left it!
Joanna Nell has expertly captured the essence of what it is to be old, but vividly remember your youth; to be determined, but confused; to be scared, but brave; to forget the facts, but remember the feelings. You will laugh, and cry, and appreciate your own memories while you have them.
The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker is an unforgettably uplifting cruise, through the waters of the ordinary life of an extraordinarily memorable woman.
Evelyn knew that she and Henry, like the ship that was their home, were approaching the end of their lives. Yet the older she got, the less she worried about getting old. It was as inevitable as the weather, and just as unpredictable. Like the weather, it could be forecast but not controlled. Best to be prepared, Evelyn maintained, but go ahead with the picnic regardless. When it came to ageing, the best you could do was to carry an umbrella. And a life jacket.
– Joanna Nell, The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker