Post contains affiliate links. Thanks to Kregel for a review copy.
The Vicar’s Wife appealed to me from its description: Jane, a native New Yorker, has just moved to Cumbria (a gorgeous part of Britain that includes the Lake District — look it up). Her husband, a native Englishman, has lived with Jane and the kids in the States for 16 years, and now it’s time to live on “his” turf. But Jane isn’t happy (strange as that seems to me. Not happy in the moors of Wuthering Heights? Seriously, lady?). She misses the city. The vicarage that the family lives in is old and drafty — not a bit like their former NYC apartment.
One day, while in the pantry, Jane comes across a grocery list. After doing a bit of research, she realizes that the note was most likely written by a former resident of the house. That would be Alice James. Jane becomes fascinated with Alice and learns what she can about her, which isn’t a lot. The book’s chapters alternate between Jane and Alice, who lived at the vicarage during WWII. Alice was the vicar’s wife referred to in the title. While Jane is unhappy at the vicarage due to missing her country and her job, Alice was unhappy as well. She had lost a baby, and is further bereaved when her husband joins the military as a chaplain. She lived with “quiet, forgotten dignity” — at least, until Jane digs up some information about her. As she learns more about Alice, Jane takes on a new perspective on life: There’s something so inspiring about a life quietly lived, isn’t there? Without any fuss or fanfare, just simple love and duty. She made a difference, even if no one sees it now, or even cares.
The author is clearly British, and refers to plaits (braids), puddings, moving “down house” (still not sure what that means), and early on mentions New York being “a balmy 23 degrees.” At first I thought this was some odd type of humor, before realizing that the author meant 23 degrees Celsius (a more reasonable 73 degrees Fahrenheit). I didn’t form much of a bond with the main character, Jane, finding her pretty whiny with her constant navel-gazing. A last-chapter turn-around for the surly teenage daughter seemed pretty unlikely as well, and yet, I really enjoyed this book. The lovely (at least to me) setting, and the character of Alice made it all worthwhile.