‘Saving Missy’ by Beth Morrey

At seventy-nine-years-old, Missy Carmichael is prickly, stubborn – and terribly lonely. Until a chance encounter in the park with two very different women opens the door to something new. 

Something wonderful.Missy was used to her small, solitary existence, listening to her footsteps echoing around the empty house, the tick-tick-tick of the watching clock. After all, she had made her life her way.

Now another life is beckoning to Missy – if she’s brave enough…

‘Saving Missy’ is a feel-good book that has some great insights into being old, some well-drawn characters, and a way of telling Missy’s story that creates suspense about what will happen next and deepens understanding with every revelation about Missy’s past.

It’s full of closely observed details of what it is like to be old and lonely and set in your ways. It shows how small your life can become and how hard that is to change. It understands that your past is important, it has shaped who you are, but it can’t sustain you forever. Even for those of us who are naturally solitary, loneliness is a predator that feeds on your self-confidence and impedes your joy.

I liked the writing. The opening paragraphs of the book won me over not only because they resonated as being true but because they got that truth across with such a light touch. Here they are:

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 shrivelled feet of mine into my new sheepskin slippers? A vague curiosity, maybe – one had to clutch on to that last vestige of an enquiring 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 cosy 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.

Morrey, Beth (2020-02-05T22:58:59). Saving Missy: The Sunday Times bestseller and the most heartwarming debut fiction novel of 2021. HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The thing I found myself less comfortable with was the purposefully uplifting nature of the book. It had about it the feeling of a romance written with a happily ever after ending in mind. Missy faced difficulties and experienced fear and grief and anger and regret, none of which was sugar-coated, but, as the title suggested, in the end, she was ‘saved’, not, in the traditional romance way. by a handsome age-appropriate male entering her life but by the friendship of two women, the love of a dog and the kindness of strangers. And that’s the part that kept pushing me out of the story. I’d like the world to work that way and I was genuinely pleased for Missy but I couldn’t make myself believe it. It seemed to me that there must have been a fairy godmother hovering somewhere off-camera, granting Missy’s wishes.

Suspension of disbelief is a necessary part of reading fiction. ‘Saving Missy’ put my ability to suspend disbelief under significant strain. That’s no criticism of Beth Morray’s writing. I think it tells me something about myself that I can easily suspend disbelief to accept the existence of werewolves, of faster-than-light space travel and of detectives with an uncanny ability to live in the mind of a psychopathic serial killer, but I struggle to accept good things happening to an elderly woman because the people around her are nice. I think part of my problem was that the people and the situations were ones that I recognised but the outcomes bordered on winning the lottery – twice.

Even with its fairytale trappings, I enjoyed ‘Saving Missy’ and I’m looking forward to reading Beth Morray’s second novel, ‘Em and Me’ when it comes out in a few days time.

I recommend that audiobook version of ‘Saving Missy’. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

Beth Morrey is an English TV producer and novelist, based in London.

As a TV producer she develops ideas for TV shows such as The Secret Life Of Four-Year-Olds.

Saving Missy was her debut novel. Her second book, Em & Me is scheduled for publication in February 2022.

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