The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker by Joanna Nell
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publishing Date: 23rd January 2020
Source: Received from the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 336
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
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 and regales her fellow passengers with stories of a glamorous life travelling the world. The crew treat her with deference. And forbearance.
But when Henry goes missing, Evelyn sets off to search every part of the ocean liner to find him; misadventures are had – all new 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 remember some things and so hard to forget others? And where is Henry?
Evelyn and her husband Henry have been living aboard the Golden Sunset ocean liner for years, with Henry a ship’s doctor. But now Henry is missing and Evelyn sets off to search for him in her new Finding Henry running shoes – she has no idea who has sent them but they are so comfortable! With no one on board seeming to realize that something has happened to Henry, Evelyn wanders around Golden Sunset with her handbag, ticking off places from her ship map. She also makes new friends, Nola and Frank, and she’s only too happy to tell them the story of her life – how she met Henry back in 1953 and share with them all the ups and downs of their lives together. But while she remembers some things clearly, as if they happened yesterday, many other present details escape her – why? Why is it so hard to remember some things but forget the others? And where is Henry?
This is a very character driven novel and the author has done a great job in giving Evelyn a distinctive voice, making her a special and unforgettable character. Evelyn’s life story was so incredibly compelling, genuine and filled with adventures, people, love, happiness and sadness. Evelyn often shares her knowledge with people, no matter if they’re interested or not, however Nola and Frank love to hear her memories. She loves the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the words of Florence Nightingale, who has inspired her to become a nurse. The author, even though Evelyn’s situations is so heart – breaking, often tells through a humorous narrative about her adventures (for example in the casino), and gives hope and light where there are so many challenges.
Evelyn was brilliant to read about though, I must admit, she made me feel desperate sometimes, as she was truly opinionated, stubborn and didn’t take advice easily. But she also had a heart in the right place. I was hooked by her colourful life and with her sharp life observations.
As for Henry. The disappearance of him gave the book a little element of mystery, and as we quickly learn that Evelyn is rather an unreliable narrator (apologies, Evelyn. I do love you) we really don’t know what to think. I had a few scenarios in mind, however my detective skills are non – existent and the author has taken me fully by surprise there. Which I loved.
I adored Evelyn’s memories, her telling us the tales of her life, beginning when she was only 21 years old. The present days, even if a bit more entertaining, also felt a little sad, as they showed us clearly Evelyn’s confused mind, and it made me personally sad, seeing her desperation to find Henry, using a map of the ship, crossing off places where she looked for him. It was truly heart – wrenching, to see her dedication and confusion.
Joanna Nell’s writing is warm and gentle and so full of feelings and emotions. She brings the ups and downs of ageing with empathy and humour and I love how she created Evelyn – a passionate, quirky person with quick – tempered nature who hasn’t felt sorry for herself making her full of courage and optimism despite the challenges she faces, navigating world that starts to feel strange and weird.
“The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker” is a book full of surprises. A story full of heart and emotions about love, loss, marriage that sensitively touches upon ageing, dementia, unconditional love and motherhood. It’s written with honesty, humanity and compassion.
It is a tender, sensitive story that, despite the often – confused Evelyn, is also incredibly heart – warming and uplifting. Highly recommended!