Jane Hatton loves her life in New York. She is happily married to Andrew and has three children. Her life is filled with her job at a non-profit that assists women in need and the demands of a frenzied family life. When Andrew decides that he wants to move back home to England, Jane is shocked but agrees. When the family moves to the former vicarage in Cumbria, she is unprepared for the adjustment that is required. Thus begins Katherine Swartz’s The Vicar’s Wife.
Cumbria is gloomy, rural, and insular—everything New York is not. With no friends, a house with few amenities, and no job to occupy her time, Jane falls into a funk. She resents the move and her attitude causes a rift between her and her husband. Though her younger children are adjusting to to the move, Natalie, her fourteen year old, is sullen and withdrawn. When Jane finds a grocery list written by a former occupant of the vicarage, she sets out to find more about the woman who occupied her home.
Told in alternating points of view, the reader experiences Jane’s story as well as the point of view of the writer of the grocery list, Alice James. Alice was the wife of the vicar in the 1930s. Happily married, Alice makes the vicarage her home, even as she struggles as a new bride and vicar’s wife. Through the changes in her life, she learns to soldier on and adapt—as well as to endure losses.
There were many things to love about The Vicar’s Wife. The English setting was well drawn and it came to life with Katherine Swartz’s descriptions. The isolation, the coldness, and the loneliness of Cumbria helped reinforce Jane’s misery and I felt as though I could feel the wind rush over the coast. Also enjoyable was the story of Alice and the establishment of her life as a newlywed at the vicarage. I particularly enjoyed the characterization of Alice’s husband, David James, as well as the women who populated Alice’s later life: her adopted daughter, her housekeeper, and the town’s scandalous single mother.
My biggest complaint is about Jane. She complained. And I mean—she complained. She completely hated England and took forever to make steps to leave New York behind. She refused to make progress on making the house livable, made her family quite miserable, and even made a trip back to New York to help out at her old job. However, when she finally made attempts to make England her home (making friends with other moms, going to community events, and talking to locals), it seemed that no one in her family even acknowledged her efforts. Her husband, mother-in-law, and children berated her frequently for her lack of effort—even as she was making an effort. It made me furious. Unfortunately, this led to more sad-sack behavior from Jane and I found myself struggling to like her or her family at all. The modern scenes were quite tedious for his reason, and the flashback scenes were far more enjoyable.
Overall, I enjoyed The Vicar’s Wife. I really enjoyed the theme of the importance of one ordinary life. Though the vicar’s wife would never be famous, her life did count for something and had value. Quite a nice message to pass along.
*I received a copy of this book for Kregel blog tours in exchange for an honest review. Regina