The Vicar’s Wife (Tales from Goswell)

Written by Katharine Swartz

Alternating from past to present, this novel is set in the quaint village of Goswell on the Cumbrian Coast of North West England. In present day, Marin Ellis’s life has been turned upside down with the death of her father, resulting in Marin taking guardianship of her 15-year-old half-sister, Rebecca. The two of them decide to move to Goswell in an attempt to start life anew. However, neither anticipates the rocky adjustment of living on the coast or negotiating the village’s established social circles.

Back in 1919, Eleanor Sanderson, daughter of Goswell’s vicar, has also had her life turned upside down with the wartime death of her beloved brother. Eleanor’s father attempts to distract her grief by hiring someone to create a garden for her pleasure. The ensuing result is that she and the gardener become unusual friends.

The garden becomes the focal point of both stories because it offers the dual protagonists a place not only of refuge, but also an outlet for channeling grief. More than just a patch of ground, the garden soon becomes the catalyst for both main characters to assert themselves, forging a unique relationship with the two gardeners, a century apart. As the chapters alternate from the past to the present, the two tales merge with concentric plots of society’s expectations for young women, and the complications that can arise from loyalty and love.

As a professed Anglophile, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel because it brought the Cumbrian coast to life with delightful local details. An unexpected benefit was how the dual stories woven together gave me deeper insight into the ways in which families cope with grief and how society’s expectations about social strata can reach across generations.