20/11/2010

Shadowlands (by Brian Sibley)

I knew nothing of Brian Sibley, although he has a fairly impressive list of published books. But I've been a great fan of CS Lewis since childhood, and I've read one book by Joy Davidman.

I had read 'Shadowlands', subtitled simply: 'The story of C.S Lewis and Joy Davidman' many years ago, and saw the film, also called 'Shadowlands', when it was made for the BBC. Their story is well-known: Lewis was a confirmed bachelor, but corresponded with many people around the world. One of them was Joy Davidman, who was married at the time, and living in the USA. She was almost Lewis's intellectual equal, unlike most women of his acquaintance.

Joy came to the UK with her sons when her marriage was in difficulty, and met CS lewis (who was always known simply as 'Jack'). They got on remarkably well, but the friendship at first was platonic, although it seems she was attracted to him in other ways too. It wasn't until she was refused a visa extension that he thought of marrying her - for convenience - and not until she became seriously ill that he realised how much he cared.

The first part of the book is a brief biography of CS Lewis, which was well-researched and well-written, but which I did find a little dull since I'd read it so many times before in other places. However, the second part, charting Joy Davidman's childhood and early academic brilliance, was fascinating, along with her growth from Judaism through Communism to Christianity.

Finally, after some black-and-white photos of the two of them and the people who played them in the BBC film, is the section of the book about the relationship and growing love between these two amazing people. Dogged by illness, with - as they said - the Sword of Damocles clearly dangling over Joy, they made the most of every minute they had together.

Very moving, drawing a clear picture of both these amazing people. Definitely recommended to anyone interested in knowing more about them, and their short marriage. First published in 1985 but still in print in the UK.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 20th November 2010

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