Joanna Nell – The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker

Hachette, Australia, 2019

Joanna Nells’ second novel is a sensitive, gently humorous story that takes us into the mind of a woman with dementia.

To say this baldly however does scant justice to a beautiful work in which the story of a life unfolds both through the failing mind of Mrs Henry Parker and those around her on the Golden Sunset cruise ship.

Mrs Parker spends most of this story looking for her husband Henry, who has mysteriously disappeared from the ship (perhaps, she thinks) or perhaps she just keeps missing him as their paths fail to cross. We know there is something going on but we are not allowed to know what until the very end – satisfyingly.

Joanna Nell talks about The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker

With the help of the ship’s crew and her new friends, Nola and Frank, Evelyn Parker tells us the story of her life as a young woman and as the wife of a ship’s doctor. The rather skewed reality of the failing mind constantly keeps the reader guessing along with Mrs Parker and provides us with some funny moments.

It is Janna Nell’s gentle and insightful humour that saves the book from what would otherwise perhaps be a dark read. She shows respect and empathy with her heroine.

The author does not shy away from the painful aspects of this neurological disease as it affects carers and those around the sufferer. However, she allows us to understand that there is an enduring personality and strength of the person with dementia, in this case Mrs Henry Parker, a saving grace as she buffets her way through the fog of failing memory. And it is love in the end that also prevails and endures.

Not an easy topic to tackle with grace and charm, but Joanna Nell succeeds on all levels. This is a wonderful read.