The Vicar’s Wife
When New Yorker Jane Hatton’s British husband prompts their relocation to a small village on the Cumbrian coast of England, only her son and husband seem to be doing well. Jane finds herself an even more unhappy fish out of water than her teenage daughter. Then she finds a scrap of an old shopping list in a forgotten corner of the former vicarage they’ve purchased, and becomes fascinated by life in the 1930s of the vicar’s wife, Alice James.
The novel takes up the twin skeins of both women: their struggles, heartache, and loves in their twin time periods in the same house. Jane’s difficulties with isolation and with missing her work lead her back to New York and into marital difficulties. Alice is in deep love with her new husband, but is unprepared for the community’s expectations for a vicar’s wife. When she becomes pregnant, all seems right with the world again. But tragedy ensues, both personal and with war on the horizon. As Jane learns more about Alice, the younger woman’s simple grace and beauty of spirit seem to infuse the harried New Yorker into taking a deeper, richer view of her new life.
Life in two time periods is evoked deftly and keeps the narrative flow lively. Both women are interesting, but the more life-and-death and moral struggles that Alice faces seem more compelling than the personal ones of the modern Jane. The intersection of their lives at novel’s end is sure to bring a tear to the reader’s eye.