Author: Jan Karon
Docile, lovable Father Tim, the bachelor rector of the charming Mitford church, is stressed that his delivery of love and truth is falling rather flat. Where’s the fire – the muse – the indwelling of a Holy Spirit that can send a true call to action instead of a lackluster bit of preaching? Intent on spending more time growing himself (or, you know, worrying about it) his seemingly peaceful country life among the rolling green hills and pastoral easiness of Mitford is soon to be troubled. Father Tim thinks he knows what his problem is – what he needs – and considers himself overextended and immensely busy. Just wait until an attractive female neighbor moves in next door, a dog the size of a Buick claims him as his owner, an urn full of ashes is replaced with stolen goods, a dying woman arrives with a final wish, a sixty-year-old secret gets spilled, and a tormented young boy without a home comes to live with him. And that’s only the half of it! That doesn’t even cover the many adventures of Violet and the Moles in Father Tim’s garden!
Along the way, Father Tim embraces life less than he is embraced and welcomed by it, showing that even the wise old village rector has much to learn. A stream of characters, some quirky, some lovable, some hilarious – some all three – make this appealing “sleeper” of a novel about life, love, relationships, and the deepest fears and wonderings in us all – plus lots and lots of delicious food and drastic overeating.
At Home in Mitford is one of those rare feel-good books in the same way that readers enjoy Little House on the Prairie – there is drama and true struggle and difficulty intermixed with the elegant beauty of daily life – the mundane, the charming, the funny, the heartwarming – everything that goes into making living such a bittersweet, yet ultimately worthwhile, experience. Jan Karon captures this well, weaving between the sleeper slice-of-life style novel and some bigger plot themes such as a jewelry thief and his encounters in Mitford, an abused and homeless boy, and a woman torn between choosing death and life. Through all the ups and down, the steady happiness of contentment, even under pressure, imbues the novel with a cozy atmosphere. This ultimately serves to make the “characters” more than just that. Father Tim and his entourage of kooky village friends and foes are real and readers are invested. At first for the mere cadence and beauty of the slow paced yet dynamic read, and then later for the people themselves, whether they are curled up painting or experiencing the diagnosis of a devastating disease.
The stories set-up here are long ranging and while some of the plots have their beginning and apex in At Home in Mitford, such as the jewelry thief and the fate of Father Tim’s vacation (an ongoing thing he is pressed to do and avoids) other stories are obviously set-up to continue growing further, namely Father Tim’s new neighbor/potential love interest and Dooley, the hardened and unwanted boy who now lives with a perplexed and in-over-his-head reactor. The Mitford Series is extensive and apparently splits off into side series later due to its popularity and readers’ insistence. When reading a particularly thick book such as this one, that’s either a blessing or a curse. Here, needless to say, it’s a blessing because by the conclusion of the novel, we are not ready to let go. We never will be in all likelihood. The amazing thing is that we enjoy time with Father Tim whether he’s experimenting with some baking or helping people in dire need. Whatever he does, we just want to be there with him.
The side characters are just as endearing. Namely, the neighbor, Cynthia, who is bold, funny, a little harum-scarum, artistic, and ultimately loving. This is the only moment in the novel where readers want to shake the reticent, boyish Father Tim who holds back from love in the teenage-boy-just-discovering-girls fashion. Readers want to scream “Cynthia is perfect for you and we love her, deal with it Father!” And indeed, this just goes to show that the character, while endearing and undeniably good, is still a fallible human who really just needs some patience, kindness, and the exasperated advice of his well-intentioned readers who really want this romance story to just pan out already.
Dooley’s tale is evidently more complex and in many ways more heartbreaking. Having come to this series out of order and started with A Light from Heaven where Dooley is already a grown man, I have the advantage of knowing that this particular storyline will become even more mature, oscillating between hilarious and tragic, playing the full line of life and the emotions of the devoted readers.
At Home in Mitford leaves readers feeling blessed and truly touched in a life changing way. Our frowns unfurl and we suddenly want to be more loving, more patient, more kind as we move through this world. It awakens forgiveness and empathy and also, most especially, evokes a sense of internal peace, a knowledge that everything is going to be ok, even when it isn’t. How Jan Karon manages to convey so much while also creating such vivid literary friends for her audience is a mystery and despite breaking down her novels and trying to figure out where those shining revelatory moments are, I can only assume that the magic is Mitford itself. The entire creation is the experience and the beauty. And with that being said, it’s now time for me to start on the second book in the series!
– Frances Carden
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