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Joy and Felicity, by Sarah Meyrick

20 August 2021

Peggy Woodford enjoys the story of a family

SARAH MEYRICK’s ambitious novel spans more than 80 years of life in Britain, from its opening in a vividly described bombing raid in 1942 endured by Northern Irish Bridie, one of the book’s central voices, to her death in a hospice in 2019, aged 94. Joy and Felicity are Bridie’s daughters, two sisters who couldn’t be less alike. Joy is clever, self-sufficient and practical; Felicity is a talented musician, and later becomes an accomplished harpist. (There’s a reason that they don’t resemble each other: Joy’s parents were killed in an air-raid in 1941; Bridie was her nanny, and adopted her.)

But both sisters find a new danger in their mother’s second marriage: each has to endure the sexual attentions of their stepfather, Joseph, who treats his new stepdaughters in chillingly powerful but different ways.

They each escape: Felicity learns the harp, and wins a scholarship to the US to study thanatogy (a system to ease the burden of dying through music). Joy becomes a nurse specialising in midwifery, and the scene in 1968 when she crosses swords with the pompous new Registrar who believes all mothers should give birth strapped to their beds on their backs, is a delight. At this point in her busy career, she’s suddenly summoned home: Joseph is dead, and her reaction of relief that a controlling evil man is no longer there to blight her life is overwhelming.

Meyrick’s novel is beautifully written, and all the characters come alive on the page. My only criticism of Joy and Felicity is its overly complex narrative method: the chapters jump back and forth between Bridie, Joy, and Felicity, and with different time-lines. The reader can at times feel a certain breathlessness: Joy’s life in 2003 is followed by Felicity’s in 2009, then by Joy’s again in 2013. But it’s a complex story vividly told, and this in the end justifies the means.

Peggy Woodford is a novelist.


Joy and Felicity
Sarah Meyrick
Sacristy Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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