Monday, February 3, 2014

The Vicar's Wife by Katharine Swartz

A New Yorker all her life, Jane Hatton loved her job as the head of a charity championing women's rights, but her fourteen-year-old daughter, Natalie, had fallen in with the wrong crowd at her Manhattan school. So Jane and her British husband, Andrew, have decided to move their family to the English countryside.

The Hattons have bought the large old vicarage in a small village on the Cumbrian coast, near Andrew's new job. The silence and solitude of a remote village is quite a change. Natalie hates her new school, and eleven-year-old Ben struggles academically. Only seven-year-old Merrie enjoys country life. Has Jane made a horrible mistake? What of her career? Her own identity?

Putting on a brave face for the family, Jane tackles renovating the rambling, drafty old house. When she finds a scrap of a very old shopping list, she grows curious about Alice, the vicar's wife who lived there years before.

As the twin narratives unfold--of Jane in the present and Alice in the 1930s--we discover that both are on a journey to discover their true selves, and to address their deepest fears.

This is a delightful novel centering on the theme of identity – what makes us who we are? Does where we live? Our job? Our family?

Jane experiences all of those questions in the process of finding out who she really is. She is aided in the process by learning about a previous vicar's wife. After finding the scrap of the old shopping list stuck behind a shelf in the pantry, she begins to inquire and ultimately finds out about the woman's character and life. As Jane finds out more and more about Alice, it helps her understand who she is and what kind of person she wants to be.

I really liked how the author wove the story of Alice, from the 1930s, into the story of Jane. It gave me pause to think of how women have survived difficult situations over the years. I appreciated the struggle Jane faced in finding her identity outside of her career. That aspect of the novel has great relevance in today's society. In contrast to Jane's story is that of Alice. She must find her identity as a childless vicar's wife, an unassuming and quiet life.

This would make a good choice for a reading group, even though there are no discussion questions included in the book. There would be much to discuss about how women find their significance in life.

This is a well written book full of penetrating insights into a woman's character. I highly recommend it.

Katharine Swartz spent thee years in New York and now lives in the Lake District with her husband, an Anglican minister, and their five children.

Lion Fiction (Kregel), 336 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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