The Vicar’s Wife, an upcoming novel by Katherine Swartz, tells two stories, both set in the same vicarage in the rural village of Goswell, but eighty years apart. One story is about Alice, who leaves Cambridge — one of my favorite places in the world, and a time in my life when I was insanely happy — and comes to Goswell when she gets married. The other story is about Jane, who leaves New York City — one of my favorite places in the world, and a time in my life when I was insanely happy — and comes to Goswell with her English husband.
The two stories collide and overlap in surprising ways, as both women struggle with the stifling small village society, and enjoy the rustic charm of the vicarage and the surrounding countryside. Each scene is incredibly realistic, from young bride Alice nervously attempting a cake under the watchful eyes of the vicarage’s formidable housekeeper, to Jane’s visit to the village clothes-swap. I recently heard this type of novel called a “domestic drama”. Not sure if this is terminology everyone else is familiar with (It was new to me!), and it’s a perfectly fitting term for novels about personal relationships and inner lives. The Vicar’s Wife invites readers into deeply personal moments in marriages and friendships, and shows why and how these characters make personal choices.
The Vicar’s Wife did have a little bit of cognitive dissonance for me. American characters often have British habits and expressions, which is a bit jarring for in the case of Jane, who struggles to make sense of everything that’s different in England. An American ex-pat looking wistfully at the balmy 37 degrees in New York whilst having a moan at how terribly different it all is in England creates some a odd moments of cognitive dissonance, in what are otherwise flawlessly believable characters.
I vaguely remembered posting something a few years ago, about reading more travelogues and historical fiction in North Carolina than anywhere else (when I searched my blog for it, I realized I was actually chatting to Harold about my escapist reading list). I really enjoyed this blend of historical and modern fiction, combining places I love and a beautiful English village. (But I would recommend The Vicar’s Wife, even if you are not struggling to find things that aren’t awful in a new town.)
This review is based upon an ARC. Thank you! Opinions are my own, as always, and a free book has never stopped me from saying snarky things before.