Cast the First Stone
The novel opens in 1965 at a “Jacob’s Join” in a church in Aberthwaite, Yorkshire. The party is to welcome home the recently married 44-year-old rector, Reverend Simon Norwood and his 30-year-old wife, Fiona Dalton. While preparing for the pot luck supper, some of the ladies’ comments such as “Off with the old and on with the new” and “Marry in haste and repent at leisure” can be overheard. They are concerned about the recently widowed rector’s decision to remarry a younger woman whom they know little about.
Fiona and Simon had met at the local library, where she is the newly appointed chief librarian; she had moved from Leeds. Following a brief courtship, Simon proposes marriage and Fiona accepts, despite her forebodings at withholding from him a grim secret from her past.
In chapter five, we are taken back to 1934, to Fiona’s birth and her teenage years in Leeds. Her school trip in 1951 with her friends to London is covered at some length. In chapter eighteen, we learn of Simon’s backstory, particularly his days during WWII as an RAF navigator. He harbours secrets of his own and is therefore not concerned about Fiona’s past.
Fiona and Simon continue to lead a blissful life. Fiona gains acceptance into the community. She organises a new women’s group that includes unmarried ladies, despite some minor criticism from the old guard.
Readers will need to be patient while reading this novel, for the major conflict does not develop until much later. It is Thornton’s writing style and the narration of the lives of ordinary people and family issues, such as teenage pregnancy, somewhat like in Catherine Cookson’s novels, which make us care for the characters. One can almost hear the Yorkshire-accented dialogue. The desire to know what happens to the protagonists propels us towards the ending. Recommended.