I promised a book review of Jan Karon’s most recent book in an October post. Finally, here it is!
Each book in Jan Karon’s Mitford series is set in a small town in North Carolina. The town itself becomes a character along with many of its citizens, even though most of each novel is told through the eyes of Father Tim Kavanagh, priest for the Lord’s Chapel. The first nine books in the series span ten years, beginning with Father Tim at the age of 60. He experiences an unwelcome retirement due to health reasons but finds true love with his neighbor across the hedge from the Rectory. This newest book finds Father Tim and Cynthia returning to Mitford to settle in her little yellow house.
Karon weaves the plot in and out of the lives of the citizens of Mitford and their encounters with Father Tim. It is tempting to compare Mitford to Mayberry with their similar small town quirky characters and gentle humor. But Mitford experiences real-life tragedies and dilemmas to provide the conflict for a great story.
Father Tim finds himself opening the Happy Endings Bookstore a couple of days a week to assist the owner, Hope Murphy, who Is confined to bedrest for the rest of her pregnancy.
As he encounters colorful citizens of Mitford, he inevitably learns their struggles and hardships. He wrestles inwardly to find unobtrusive ways to intervene in their lives. With his gentle spirit he finds meaningful work for a grieving illiterate man, gives life lessons to an angry teenager, offers advice for his adopted son’s love life, and counsels his pulpit replacement. Lest you think Father Tim is one of those “I know what’s best for you,” picture him as more of a reluctant adviser, especially stepping through the minefield of teens.
One of several themes are found in articles in the The Muse, a local newspaper, that ask, “Does Mitford Still Take Care of its Own?” This theme runs through all of the books, but times and people have changed in Mitford, and the reporter searches for evidence of people who demonstrate this theme.
You’ll not find suspense or high drama in these pages, but you will be delighted with scenes that keep you pushing to the next chapter, developing a tapestry of conflict. Some conflicts return from other books: Father Tim’s ongoing battle with managing diabetes without hurting the feelings of generous bakers or a newcomer to town brings humorous influences in unexpected ways, such as the installation of a new tanning bed at Fanny Skinner’s The Hair House beauty shop. A little mystery, a life-threatening emergency, or a mission of mercy to an isolated home in a snowstorm are just a few highlights .
If this is your first Mitford book, you may find the large cast of characters confusing. Karon jumps from the viewpoint of one character to another with little introduction, but it is a device that moves the plot along. She has also written The Mitford Bedside Companion with descriptions of places and characters. Since it has been a few years since I read this series, it helps to be reminded of a character’s history.
If you find yourself wandering down the streets of Mitford in this novel or one of the others, I hope you find as much joy as I have. It’s a good read.
Some of my favorite passages in Karon’s books are the prayers by Father Tim, thoughtful and never trite. Tim and Cynthia often defer to “the prayer that never fails” when they face particularly vexing situations. You will find that prayer somewhere in the novel before you come to the last page, but I think it’s a great prayer to remember:
I am thankful for authors