Friday, August 23, 2013

The Vicar's Wife by Katharine Swartz (2013)

Jane Hatton is happily married with three kids. At the request of her English husband, Andrew, she gives up her life in New York, including her gorgeous apartment in Manhattan, exciting lifestyle and demanding but rewarding job, and moves to a house that was previously a Vicarage in a remote village in England, Gosford, where the weather is cold and the wind always blows. Hating her lifestyle and resenting her husband for asking her to move, Jane lethargically floats around their new spacious house, acting like a teenager and wallowing in her misery. One day, while lethargically and ineffectively attempting to paint the second pantry, she uncovers a shopping list that says:
Beef joint for Weltons, 2lb, 2/3d
Potatoes, 5lb, 6d
Tea, ¼ lb, 4d
Mint Humbugs for David, 1d.
This shopping list sparks an interest in the people who had previous lived in her house and Jane soon discovers that the list was most likely written by Alice James, a vicar’s wife who lived in her house before the war. Jane feels a connection to Alice that she doesn’t feel to any other part of her new life and slowly starts to investigate Alice’s quiet story.

The book then moves back in time to tell the story of Alice, the daughter of a Cambridge scholar who falls in love with one of her father’s former students, David James, who has become a vicar in the remote English town of (you guessed it) Gosford. The book then takes turns following Jane and Alice’s stories as they try to find their place in their families and the town to which they both somewhat reluctantly moved.

Over the course of the novel, Jane discovers the lifestyle she loved had had an unexpected impact on her family and her place within it. While Jane is becoming more self-aware, the lovely Alice is growing up and developing her own strength and identity. My main criticism of this book is that Jane is such a sook and a complainer! She goes on and on about how bad her life is without taking any sort of responsibility for her own decisions and role in her predicament. Fortunately, Alice’s story provides a respite from Jane’s unrelenting whinging and, in the end, Jane’s sourness works well in comparison to Alice’s sweetness. The feminist in me did object to the overarching message that it is the role of the mother to create a home but that was balanced by a realistic depiction of the drudgery that is involved in being the primary homemaker.

The Vicar’s Wife is not a particularly deep or complex story but I did enjoy reading it very much. It is a very relaxing, easy read that is perfect to take on holiday or to use to help you unwind at the end of a rough day. Three stars.

A copy of the book was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley but the opinions in this review are my own.

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