Yesterday, I finished the book Dear Mr. Knightley. It left me dismayed and inexplicably nostalgic for the life I didn’t live. I have been thinking a lot about that lost life lately, wanting to escape to it in my mind, while being constantly redirected to reality by the people and pressures which are part of the life I do live.
Dear Mr. Knightley, the inaugural effort of Katherine Reay, is about Sam, an orphaned girl who found safety and solace within the world of Austen, Dickens, and the Bronte sisters, creating a relational wall with the real people around her. At age twenty-three, she receives a full scholarship to the Medill School of Journalism, on the condition that she write regular letters to the mysterious donor of the scholarship. The book is comprised of her letters to the donor.
It had popped up on several must-read lists, so when I saw a copy on the new release shelf at the library, I snatched it up. As I began reading, I wasn’t sure that I liked the main character and format enough to continue, so I laid it aside for a couple of days. When I picked it up again, though, something in either me or the book shifted, and it became irresistible. I read until late Friday night, when my book light finally gave out. After a busy Saturday, I was finally able to finish it on Mother’s Day afternoon.
Have you ever read a book that was utterly satisfying, only to have a twist at the end completely ruin your experience? That is what happened with Dear Mr. Knightley for me. The book had all of the elements of Anne of Green Gables-esque female drama and romance, and it masterfully wove in Christian elements, without feeling overdone or cheesy. And then, the mystery was revealed . . . and all of the joy and anticipation I felt dissipated with the discovery. There could be no reconciling the end with all I felt throughout. Such a violation could not be overcome, even if the main character seemed to think it could.
What I Don’t Have
I paged back through the book, hoping for some resolution to my feelings, but finding none, I laid the book down once more- for good. In its place came a flood of personal disappointment for desires now far from reach in my own life: the desire to attend a prestigious university out East, the desire to pursue Journalism, the desire for the independence and possibility of my 20’s. I will never have those years or opportunities again, and it made me sad to realize it.
What I Do Have
Instead, I have a beautiful life with a husband and five children, a large, tree-lined back yard, my own blog, wonderful friends, a loving family and supportive church family. In reality, I have achieved- albeit in small ways- all of the dreams I have desired for my life (outside of the Ivy League college experience): I have sung, acted, written, been published in newspapers, fallen in love, etc. I have no need to be disappointed with my life.
In retrospect, I think it was more the acute awareness of the loss of youth and the loss of possibility that comes with age and responsibilities which caused my funk. I am now in my forties, and my children are sprouting up like weeds. Sooner than I can even bear to imagine, they will be in their teens and twenties, discovering themselves and pursuing their dreams. I am excited to see who and what they become.
I am also excited every time I hear of a 60, 70, or 80-year old realizing their dreams. I truly believe it is never to late to live the life you have dreamed of. And, therein, I find hope, even for myself.
From reading Dear Mr. Knightley, I caught a glimpse of myself- as an author. I saw within Reay’s story similarities to the book I have been working on this year: our main characters have similar personalities; our stories share a common location; and I, too, have been trying to capture the essence of Christianity with my characters, without sounding preachy or obvious. Reading this book made me feel like I will have an inaugural, literary effort of my own to present- that my dream is not out of reach. And that, through my writing, I can recapture some of my lost desires and live vicariously through the characters I create.
Even though I found the conclusion of Dear Mr. Knightley sorely disappointing, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book, and I am thankful for the insight it offered me. It enabled me to appreciate who and where I am at this stage in my life as both a woman and a writer. Have you read Dear Mr. Knightley? What did you think of it?