Cover image for The love story of Missy Carmichael : a novel
Title:
The love story of Missy Carmichael : a novel
ISBN:
9780525542445
Physical Description:
339 pages ; 24 cm.
Summary:
The world has changed around seventy-nine-year-old librarian Millicent Carmichael, aka Missy. Though quick to admit that she often found her roles as a housewife and mother less than satisfying, Missy once led a bustling life driven by two children, an accomplished and celebrated husband, and a Classics degree from Cambridge. Now her husband is gone, her daughter is estranged after a shattering argument, and her son has moved to his wife's native Australia, taking Missy's beloved only grandchild half-a-world away. She spends her days sipping sherry, avoiding people, and rattling around in her oversized, under-decorated house waiting for. . . what exactly? The last thing Missy expects is for two perfect strangers and one spirited dog named Bob to break through her prickly exterior and show Missy just how much love she still has to give. In short order, Missy finds herself in the jarring embrace of an eclectic community that simply won't take no for an answer--including a rambunctious mutt-on-loan whose unconditional love gives Missy a reason to re-enter the world one muddy paw print at a time.
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Summary

Summary

For readers of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and A Man Called Ove , a life-affirming, deeply moving "coming-of-old" story, a celebration of how ordinary days are made extraordinary through friendship, family, and the power of forgiving yourself--at any age.

"At a time when people are having to isolate, [this novel is] a balm, offering an expansive sense of love and possibility at a time when the main characters feel like those chances are gone." -- Christian Science Monitor

The world has changed around seventy-nine-year-old librarian Millicent Carmichael, aka Missy. Though quick to admit that she often found her roles as a housewife and mother less than satisfying, Missy once led a bustling life driven by two children, an accomplished and celebrated husband, and a Classics degree from Cambridge. Now her husband is gone, her daughter is estranged after a shattering argument, and her son has moved to his wife's native Australia, taking Missy's beloved only grandchild half-a-world away. She spends her days sipping sherry, avoiding people, and rattling around in her oversized, under-decorated house waiting for...what exactly?

The last thing Missy expects is for two perfect strangers and one spirited dog named Bob to break through her prickly exterior and show Missy just how much love she still has to give. In short order, Missy finds herself in the jarring embrace of an eclectic community that simply won't take no for an answer--including a rambunctious mutt-on-loan whose unconditional love gives Missy a reason to re-enter the world one muddy paw print at a time.

Filled with wry laughter and deep insights, The Love Story of Missy Carmichael is a coming-of-old story that shows us it's never too late to forgive yourself and, just as important, it's never too late to love.


Author Notes

Beth Morrey 's work has been published in the Cambridge and Oxford May Anthologies and shortlisted for the Grazia Orange First Chapter competition. She lives in London with her family and dog. The Love Story of Missy Carmichael is her debut novel.


Reviews 3

Kirkus Review

An isolated, prickly septuagenarian in London who has lost her husband works to overcome her fears that she is a burden to those around her.Millicent CarmichaelMissymarried the man she loved, Leo, in 1959. But after a half-century of living, loving, and growing older in a huge house in Stoke Newington, London, he is gone, and she is bereft. Her son and grandson, both of whom she dotes on, live more than 9,000 miles away in Australia, and she is recently estranged from her daughter, who lives nearby in Cambridge. Missy is a difficult person with sharp edgesshe knows this, her Leo knew thisand she is at loose ends, having lived in a community for all this time without getting to know anyone because she held so tightly to her family she made no time for anyone else. But now, the loneliness is crushing her. A few life-changing moments happen in quick succession: She faints in the park and meets neighbor Sylvie, who kindly sits with her for a bit; her home is robbed while she feigns sleep; and she agrees to do a favor for brusque neighbor Angelajournalist, friend of Sylvie, and single mother to Otis. And so Missy finds herself tending to a vivacious dog of indeterminate breed, Bob, that she neither wanted nor feels capable of taking care of. Debut author Morrey has deftly created a series of love stories, interwoven together and told in snippets through time: Missy's undying devotion to Leo, despite hisand hermany flaws; her devotion to her children, which she often isn't able to verbalize; and her growing niche in the community that Bobher Bobby, her unexpected companion and confidantintroduces her to during their daily walks. There are no saccharine moments to mar this tale.Pain, grief, and hurt are all part of life in this moving portrayal of the many forms love can take. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

At 79, Missy Carmichael feels like her life is over. Her husband is gone, her son moved to Australia, and she's estranged from her daughter, leaving her alone with her feelings in a too-large house. When a series of chance encounters expands her circle, Missy must decide whether to let new friends into her life or continue wallowing in nostalgia. Spirited Angie and her young son, Otis, bring Missy back to the joyous, stressful days of motherhood; big-hearted Sylvie helps Missy spruce up her dismal home; and kindly Denzil reminds Missy that being around others can be invigorating. But the real life-changer is Bobby, a lovable mutt whose loyal companionship opens Missy's heart and allows her to see her life in a new way. Morey's debut is a charming story about the way that connecting with others can heal a broken spirit, and curmudgeonly Missy's dilemmas are relatable and realistic. Flashbacks interspersed throughout the book reveal how Missy walled herself off from others, and readers will cheer as Missy's friends--and her dog--remind her how much she has to offer the world. Fans of Fredrik Backman and Rachel Joyce will enjoy this uplifting (but never saccharine) "coming of old" story.


Library Journal Review

With the love of her life gone, her daughter estranged, and her son and grandson living halfway 'round the globe in Australia, 79-year-old Missy Carmichael carries on quietly in London. Then a big-hearted dog named Bob crash-lands into her life, which changes everything. Bought in a heated auction here following a ten-way auction in the UK, and British author Morrey already has another book under contract with the publisher.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1 It was bitterly cold, the day of the fish-stunning. So bitter that I nearly didn't go to watch. Lying in bed that morning, gazing at the wall since the early hours, I'd never felt more ancient, nor more apathetic. So why, in the end, did I roll over and ease those shriveled feet of mine into my new sheepskin slippers? A vague curiosity, maybe-one had to clutch on to that last vestige of an inquiring mind, stop it slipping away. Still in my dressing gown, I shuffled about the kitchen making tea and looking at my emails to see if there were any from Alistair. Well, my son was busy, no doubt, with his fieldwork. Those slippers he bought me for Christmas were cozy in the morning chill. There was a message from my daughter, Melanie, but it was only to tell me about a documentary she thought I might like. She often mistook her father's tastes for mine. I ate dry toast and brooded over my last conversation with her and for a second bristles of shame itched at the back of my neck. It felt easier to ignore it, so instead I read the newspapers online and saw that David Bowie had died. At my age, reading obituaries is a generational hazard, contemporaries dropping off, one by one; each announcement an empty chamber in my own little revolver. For a while I tried to turn a blind eye, as if ignoring death could somehow fob it off. But people kept dying and other people kept writing about it and some perverse imp obliged me to keep up to date. Bowie's death upset me more than most, although I never really listened to his music. I did remember him introducing the little animation of The Snowman, but when we watched it with my grandson at Christmas they'd replaced the introduction with something else. So my one recollection of Bowie was him holding a scarf and looking somber, and for some reason the image was a disturbing one. The unmade bed beckoned, but then Leo's voice in my head, as it so often was. "Buck up, Mrs. Carmichael! Onwards and upwards!" So I went up to my room to put on my thickest pair of tights and a woolen skirt, grimacing at the putrid blue veins, and creaking along with the stairs on the way back down to fetch my coat. Struggling with the buttons, I sat down for a moment to catch my breath, thinking about the sign in the park the previous week. My post-Christmas slump was particularly bad this year, the warm glow of festivities punctured by Alistair's departure, and with him Arthur, my golden grandson, his voice already taking on the Australian upward lilt. And it was still hard, being in the park without Leo. He was a great believer in a constitutional, enjoyed belittling self-important joggers and jovially berating cyclists. Every landmark had a dismal echo, but I was drawn back again all the same-the resident gray lady, idly roaming. There was a certain oak tree we used to visit-Leo liked its gnarled old trunk and said it was a Quercus version of him, increasingly craggy in old age. I would no doubt have spent hours standing there woolgathering that day, but was distracted by a child who sounded like my Arthur. A boy of his age was tugging his mother fretfully as she read a notice pinned to the railings that circled each lake. Moving closer, I pretended to read it. "Mummmmmeeeeeeee!" He had strawberry blond locks and biscuit crumbs at the corner of his mouth that begged to be wiped away. Children are so beautiful, flawless and shiny, like a chestnut newly out of its shell. Such a shame they all grow up to be abominable adults. If only we could preserve that giddy-with-possibility wiring, everything greeted with an open embrace. "Jeez, Otis, give me a break," said the mother in a broad Irish accent, batting him off. She had dyed red hair and I loathed her instantly. She glanced sideways at me, the old crone leering at her son, and I resumed my faux-study of the notice. "What do you think, Oat?" Oat? Good Lord, people today. "They're gonna electrocute the fish! Wanna watch?" The park caretakers needed to move the fish from one lake to the other, which required them to be stunned. Electrofishing. I'd never seen or heard of such a thing, nor did it seem particularly interesting, but maybe if I could see "Oat" again, then the tightness I'd felt in my gullet since Ali and Arthur got on the plane might ease a little. It would be something to do, after all . . . Since that afternoon a week ago, I'd changed my mind half a dozen times, dwelling on the decision as only the terminally bored and insecure can. In the end, I decided to go so that there would be something to tell Alistair about. My life had become so circumscribed I'd grown worried he might think me trivial, and I only read the papers (including the obituaries) so that I knew what he was talking about when he mentioned a politician's gaffe, or asked which new plays were on in the West End. I could tell Ali was impressed when I went to the Turner exhibition, so the three buses in the rain were worth it. Seeing some carp get electrocuted wasn't quite the dazzling metropolitan excursion, but it was better than nothing. So there I was, off to see the fish-stunning in my best winter coat, already drafting the email I would write on my return. Perhaps I might bump into little Otis and feed the ducks with him and queue up with his mother for a coffee, and . . . I ran adrift at this point, and nearly turned back, but by then my legs were stiffening up in the cold, and the bench by the lake was nearer. A small group had gathered to watch. Someone was handing out croissants, and when one was offered I took it, not because I was hungry but just grateful to be noticed. I put it to my lips and remembered a time in Paris with Leo when we'd had pain au chocolat on the banks of the Seine and then went to a bookshop where he'd disappeared up a rickety staircase while I petted a cat curled on a battered sofa, picked shards of pastry out of my teeth and worried which hand I was using to do which. They smelled of chocolate and cat for the rest of the day because we couldn't find anywhere to wash. My eyes filled with tears: Leo and I would never go to Paris again, even though it wasn't a particularly pleasant memory as I'd found the city dirty and unfriendly, there were no green spaces, and despite Leo speaking fluent French, they used to curl their lips at him because he never sounded anything but English and as puffed up as their croissants. I swayed and sank onto the bench, blinking and fighting the breathlessness, until a warm patrician voice said, "Oh my love, do risk a bite or two-they're made by my own fair hand." A middle-aged woman with eyes like berries was smiling down at me, waving a napkin, so I made a show of nibbling the croissant and mumbling my thanks, cursing myself for being such a distracted old bat. She carried on moving through the crowd, handing out her pastries and pleasantries, then everyone surged forward, so I struggled to my feet again to watch two men in waders and lurid jackets sailing across the pond in a curious-looking boat. About four feet off the bow hung a circular contraption with small bars dangling from it into the water, like a giant set of wind chimes. Next to me, a chap was explaining the process to the woman next to him. The device worked in combination with a conductor on the hull to create an electrical field in the water wherever the boat traveled, with an onboard lever controlling the current. The men made large circles around the lake, one steering and operating the electrical lever while the other knelt poised with a net. For a while nothing happened, but then a glistening gray buoy popped gaily to the surface-the first stunned fish. "Ooooh," said the onlookers, clapping politely. After that they started bobbing up everywhere, gleaming and flaccid, waiting to be fished out. Every time the second man scooped one up, the watching crowd cheered and clinked their paper cups of mulled wine. But the longer it went on, the more unsettling it became. The rhythmic "plash" as they juddered out of the water, the slow whoosh of the net, the resulting thud as they hit the container. Plash, whoosh, thud. Plash, whoosh, thud. Then . . . flap. The stunning only lasted long enough to get the fish into the boat. Those vast, prehistoric-looking carp, covered in pond mud, were hauled on board and immediately started writhing and flopping. Plash, whoosh, thud, plash, whoosh, thud. Flap, flap, flap. One minute you're gliding along, not a care in the world, and the next a huge prod appears and knocks you for six, and then everything is different and you're gasping with the shock of it. And there's no triumph in survival, because you're just swimming round and round endlessly in a new lake, mouthing pointlessly. I'd rather someone put me out of my misery. Ashes to ashes. The breathlessness, back. Plash, whoosh, thud. I could look the other way, then it would go away. Don't think, don't think. Thud, thud, thud. I clutched the railings, trying to ignore the looming branches above, but my skin prickled around the edges, flared, and I felt myself fall amidst reaching hands and faraway shouts as the blackness took over . . . Chapter 2 Something rough was rubbing against my cheek, moving up my face like a scourer. Moaning, I turned my head away. "She's coming round, move back!" The scourer was back, rough and warm, with sour breath behind it. I could feel my nose wrinkle as the stench flooded my nostrils. "Give her some air! Nancy, get away with you!" Reaching out feebly, I encountered a handful of fur. Then felt the scourer on my hand. A tongue. I pushed it away and moaned again. I must have been a bit under the weather, because when I finally came to I was lying on the bench and the woman with the berry eyes and pastries was holding a wet napkin to my forehead, onlookers peering around her shoulders. Struggling to the surface, clammy and astray, I could still feel the link with whatever underworld I'd been to, and closed my eyes again, hoping they would all go away. "Gosh, you took a bit of a turn, my love," the woman said, holding my wrist. "I don't have a clue what I'm doing with this pulse nonsense," she continued, jiggling my hand gently. "What's right, after all? Seventy, eighty? I don't know. No, don't get up just yet." "Oh no, I'm fine, really." I heaved my legs off the bench. "Sorry to be such a bother, I don't know what came over me." The darkness was receding, replaced by the equally cold sweat of embarrassment. My cheek and hand were coated in some sort of sticky substance and there was that urge to go and wash it off. "Probably the weather, sweetie. It's a bit chilly, isn't it? Let's just sit for a moment and look at the trees. Aren't they beautiful? Would you like another croissant? Go on, build up your strength. I'm Sylvie, by the way. And these two are Nancy and Decca." Still dazed, I realized she was indicating two small dove-blue dogs prancing round her feet. As she sat down on the bench next to me they jumped up either side of her, and I had to shift along to make room, wiping the back of my hand on my skirt. We sat eating croissants, looking up at the trees, and they were rather beautiful in a bleak way, stark and spiky against the pearly sky, with weak sunlight clawing through the clouds and dappling on the lake. The crowd had dispersed, although the men continued to circle, scooping the last of the fish. "Something toxic in the water, apparently," remarked Sylvie, nodding toward the lake. "I do hope they survive the experience. Who's Leo, by the way? Your son? Would you like someone to fetch him?" Leo. I would have liked nothing more. Someone to go and fetch him, bring him back to me. He'd march up, take my hand, say, "Missy! What have you been up to, silly old girl?" And we'd walk home together and light a fire to ward off the cold. The tears came again and I dabbed them away, the drops warm on my white fingers. "I'm sorry," said Sylvie, patting and squeezing my icy hand. "I shouldn't have asked. You said his name, and I thought, maybe . . . Anyway, let's just sit here awhile, shall we? No hurry." So we sat, mostly in silence, but sometimes Sylvie would point out a plant or bird or dog of note, and I was able to reply adequately without worrying I was boring her or saying the wrong thing. Then I finished my croissant and dusted off the flakes, ready to get up and say good-bye to this easy, undemanding woman who had been the first stranger to speak to me in weeks. Best to end the conversation before I wanted to instead of after she did. "Thank you so much," I said, awkwardly holding out my still-sticky hand. "So kind, but I must be going . . ." "Bollocks, we missed it." We both turned to see Otis's red-haired mother dragging her sulking son down the path between the lakes. He was wearing a cape and had hooked a shield over the handlebars of his scooter, his russet hair sticking out in different directions. I wanted to smooth it down, then ruffle it up again. "See, I told you they'd die without us," she huffed, shouldering an enormous, overstuffed bag and leaning down to fondle the dogs. "Angela, love," said Sylvie. "Late as ever. Fancy a coffee? I was just about to ask . . . um . . . ?" She turned to me expectantly. "Millicent," I murmured, scarcely able to believe my luck. Would it be all right to say yes? Surely I deserved a treat? But it wouldn't do to look too eager. "Millicent . . . to join us." Angela sighed and hefted her bag again. "Go on, then. But I wanted to see some fish being killed. So did Otis, but he couldn't find his Spider-Man outfit, daft beggar." Excerpted from The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by Beth Morrey All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.