This is Joanna Nell’s follow-up to the bestselling The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village. It is a poignant ode to love and the memories that make a well-lived life.
As the wife of retired ship’s doctor Dr Henry Parker, Evelyn is living out her twilight years aboard the Golden Sunset, a ship that although “…older compared to the faster, newer vessels that adorned the glossy brochures” wasn’t in bad shape for her age. Evelyn can remember the ship in its glory days. She can remember boarding for the maiden voyage, husband Henry by her side. She’s not sure where Henry is right now, but she’s sure he’s around somewhere. Everyone on the ship knows him. He’ll turn up.
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. 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. They fell in love, and she abandoned her dreams to become a midwife and became a wife instead, embarking on their life together at sea.
Every night Evelyn 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, as she searches for her husband.
The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker is a love letter to the memories we make over the course of a lifetime, and how the heart remembers what matters, even when the mind has long forgotten. As it becomes clear that Evelyn’s memory is fading, the ups and downs of her marriage and her life on board the ship since its maiden voyage, are all the more bittersweet for us to read.
Nell has once again delivered a rich tapestry of a tale, switching between the present day and Evelyn’s memories and tales of the past.
The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker is filled with delightful characters, especially endearing Evelyn who is simultaneously feisty and fragile. Polished prose and a vivid delivery of shipboard life, the novels is at once heart-warming and heartbreaking. There are serious themes such as dementia and care of the elderly, which makes this book a perfect choice for book clubs.
Beautifully written, with a lot of humour and some real laugh out loud moments The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker is utterly delightful. Highly recommended.
About the author:
Joanna Nell was born in the UK and studied medicine at Cambridge and Oxford universities. Her short fiction has won multiple awards and has been published in various journals and literary anthologies. A former ship’s doctor and now a GP with a passion for women’s health and care of the elderly, Joanna is drawn to writing character-driven stories for women in their prime, creating young-at-heart characters who are not afraid to break the rules and defy society’s expectations of ageing. Her first novel, THE SINGLE LADIES OF JACARANDA RETIREMENT VILLAGE, was a national bestseller. Joanna lives on Sydney’s Northern Beaches with her husband and two teenage children.