Skip to main content

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael

Review

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael

Written in the vein of ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE and ALL ADULTS HERE, Beth Morrey’s THE LOVE STORY OF MISSY CARMICHAEL is both a love song to growing old and a quiet, introspective look into the stories we tell ourselves.

For the first time in 79 years, Millicent “Missy” Carmichael is entirely alone. Her beloved husband, Leo, has died; her son, Alistair, has left England for a new life in Australia with her only grandson; and she is estranged from her daughter, Melanie. Cooped up in her big, empty house, Missy has settled into a quiet but lonely routine. She drinks wine, wanders the corners of her home, and dwells on her regrets. Every day she tries to find something new to do and email her son about, but she’s quickly running out of ideas. Finally, the town announces that they will be electrocuting the fish in a local park’s pond to transfer them to a new pond, and Missy sees her opportunity for something really big to share with Alistair. Expecting a quirky story about shocked fish, she heads to the park and finds so much more.

"Heartwarming, poignant and raw, THE LOVE STORY OF MISSY CARMICHAEL is the perfect book for anyone ready for a change, for hope, or for a solid love story rooted in something more."

There, Missy comes across a frazzled, red-headed woman named Angela and her young son, Otis. Angela is brassy and bold, and though she is initially critical of her parenting, Missy finds herself longing to be introduced to the two, dreaming of her own grandson whom she misses immensely. When the time comes for the big electrocution, Missy faints and finds herself being prodded awake by Sylvie, the first stranger she has spoken to in weeks. Naturally, Angela and Sylvie are acquainted, and though Missy is desperate for friendship, she declines their invite for coffee, worried that she will be seen as an intruder...or, even worse, a lonely old woman with no other plans.

As the weeks without Leo draw on, Missy finds herself crossing paths with Angela and Sylvie again and again, and soon catches herself sitting at the cafe longer than usual, or parking herself on a park bench, hoping to run into one or both of them. With time, she strikes up a careful friendship with them, drawing her out of her self-imposed exile. Before she knows it, she is heavily entwined in their lives, and even finds herself caring for Angela’s friend’s dog, opening her home and heart to more than just her new furry friend. As she learns more about the warm, comforting Sylvie, and the brash journalist Angela, Missy starts to realize that there is life in widowhood, but only she can give herself the permission to live it.

Alternating between Missy’s forays into friendship and her early life with Leo, Morrey tells us the story of how Missy first fell in love and began cultivating her life with her late husband. Paired together, these timelines draw a portrait of a timid, insecure woman who is certain only of her morals. As she begins to fall for and share her life with Leo, an outspoken and acclaimed historian, she struggles to find an avenue for her own goals, often drowning in the tasks of motherhood and childcare. At the same time, her dealings with Sylvie and Angela reveal a woman who, while quietly disapproving, is a bit of a pushover. Luckily for her, her eagerness to please results in her agreeing to some incredible and deeply necessary strides in character development. Along the way, we learn that Missy has been hiding a few secrets that paint her in a not-so-favorable light --- most notably a big, dark one that has left her estranged from Melanie.

As with Eleanor Oliphant, readers will find that Missy Carmichael is not the warm, instantly relatable main character they might expect from a book with “love story” in the title. She is intensely judgmental, but Morrey writes her with such sophistication and careful pacing that it is clear that her judgments come more from insecurity than maliciousness. In this way, Missy represents the worst in all of us --- and displays it with the comfort and openness that could only come from an elderly character who already has lost all she holds dear. Where Morrey shines is in her slow, measured reveal of Missy’s past and how it has molded her.

When writing an older character, an author must always be careful to highlight both the protagonist’s growth and his or her journey so far. Morrey does both here --- and she does it impossibly well. Even at 79, Missy experiences tremendous growth and Morrey develops her fully, satisfyingly and just plain beautifully. Though somewhat unlikable at the start, she is so fully rendered and expertly drawn that even her flaws become endearing (and did I mention there’s a dog?).

Heartwarming, poignant and raw, THE LOVE STORY OF MISSY CARMICHAEL is the perfect book for anyone ready for a change, for hope, or for a solid love story rooted in something more.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 15, 2020

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael
by Beth Morrey

  • Publication Date: April 7, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0525542442
  • ISBN-13: 9780525542445