The Vicar's Wife by Katharine Swartz opens with the reader meeting Jane Hatton, a die-hard New Yorker, born and raised who loves the energy of the city but seems to spend more time working at the charity she loves than raising her family. Her husband, an British ex-pat, convinces Jane to move the family back to his native land after their fourteen-year-old daughter, Natalie, begins hanging with the wrong crowd at school and making poor choices about life. Jane reluctantly agrees never dreaming how much she would be giving up in the process.
Once on the coast of England in the small town of Cumbria, Jane begins to face the realization that she didn't really want this move. She begins to catalog all the sacrifices she made and slowly begins to resent it all. While cleaning out a pantry to paint, she discovers a slip of paper with a shopping list on it. Thus begin her journey to find out about the previous occupants of the old vicarage she finds her and her family now living in.
The shopping list belonged to Alice James, the wife of the vicar who lived in Cumbria in the late 1930s into the early 1940s, as World War II is beginning. Jane feels a kinship to Alice as she begins to research who might have written the list and what her life might have been like in the house.
I loved this book. While I've never been a city girl, I remember well when my husband and I made the decision to move from the suburbs of one of Maine's larger cities to the very small town he grew up in. I had three small children. I left behind a wide support and social network. It was hard adjusting to the new rural lifestyle I found myself living, even though I had grown up in a similar fashion. However, soon I loved it and found it just as difficult to leave that quiet life for a slightly busier small town life just a year or so ago. It's all in the perspective.
The book bounces between Jane's point of view and Alice's. There are some similarities with both women as they each struggle in their own way to make the vicarage their home. It also gives us look at what life was like in England during World War II, albeit in the countryside.
I found myself trying to talk some sense in to Jane about the decisions she felt justified in making. I also found myself completely caught up in Alice's life. The author did a great job making me feel like I knew both women well. I read this book in only a couple of days and continue thinking about the characters. To me, that's the mark of an excellent book.