Thursday, 28 July 2016
The Vicar's Wife by Katharine Swartz
I liked The Vicar's Wife a lot. It's the story of a woman moving from the US, where she has a busy life with a job she loves, to Goswell, West Cumbria, to live in old vicarage. Jane is reluctant to leave New York, but tells herself it is her British husband's "turn" to have the life he wants. Nevertheless, she privately resents the change, and makes little attempt to adapt to her new life. The only thing that piques her interest at all is the scrap of paper she finds while exploring the larder, a brief shopping list. She manages to identify the writer of the list tentatively as Alice James, wife of the vicar of Goswell in the 1930s, and thus, a former resident of Jane's new home.
At this point, Alice's story starts in parallel, and the two run side-by-side for the remainder of the book. In many ways, Alice is the real protagonist, although Jane is the one the reader is expected to identify with. But both are depicted with equal sympathy, as is the community of Goswell, clearly based on the author's own experience of living in West Cumbria (I've lived there too, and it's recognisable).
It may be purely coincidence that the title echoes that of one of Joanna Trollope's very successful "Aga sagas", though I doubt it, because this is very much in the Trollope tradition. Something Swartz shares with Trollope is the ability to create convincing child characters, and to engage your interest in them. The depiction of the gradual realisation of unhappiness is also very reminiscent of Trollope at her best. Even the cover could be Trollope, couldn't it?* I'm happy to say that it's not just bucolic, but appropriate to the story.
This is not the only time that Swartz has written about Goswell, I've discovered, and I shall be reading more of her books. Thoroughly recommended.
My copy was courtesy of NetGalley. (less)
* Indeed, I have noticed since writing this that another of Swartz's books is called A Village Affair.