The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker by Joanna Nell
Mrs Henry Parker – Evelyn – is no ordinary cruise ship passenger. The Golden Sunset has been her home for decades, thanks to her husband’s role as the ship’s doctor. But as she sets off on the latest sailing, she seems to have misplaced her medical man.
Despite reassurances from the crew that he’s bound to turn up soon, Evelyn embarks on a mission to find him. It is soon apparent that Henry is not the only thing she has lost – her memory has also started disappearing, leading her into all sorts of awkward and entertaining situations as she scours the vessel in search of her errant husband.
When she finds herself at a mindful colouring activity in the ship’s library, she meets passengers Nola and Frank, a couple fascinated by Evelyn’s life as a cruise liner resident. At their request, she begins to tell her story, starting with how she met Henry when sailing from England to Sydney in 1953 to take up her career as a nurse. It’s a story that is drip-fed to the reader throughout the book as Evelyn’s shadowed memories regain some clarity. Guided and inspired by the writings of her heroine, Florence Nightingale, and with an uncanny ability to recall verses from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - while unable to remember if she’s heading to breakfast or dinner - Evelyn is an endearing character. She has the appearance of a confused little old lady, but there is a steely determination and feistiness to her as well. Through her unveiled memories we learn of her intelligence, the sacrifice she made for love and the heartache that followed.
Author Joanna Nell is a former ship’s doctor herself and as a GP she has a particular interest in the care of the elderly. She writes with informed understanding of and respect for the ailing mind, imbuing her story with heart-warming humour and, in this case, a truly delightful, unexpected conclusion. A lovely second novel to follow her best-selling debut, The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village.
Reviewer: Rowena Mara
Published by Hachette