19/01/2006

A Common Life (by Jan Karon)

A relative introduced me to the Mitford series some years ago; I found the first book, 'At Home in Mitford' totally delightful, and have collected each subsequent book in the series soon after publication. The author writes gentle, character-based stories based in small-town America, featuring the sixty-something Father Tim and his neighbour Cynthia.

This, rather confusingly, was the sixth Mitford book written by Jan Karon, but is the third chronologically. It's quite a short book - less than 200 pages - and it covers the time from Father Tim's proposal to Cynthia through to their honeymoon. It answers a lot of questions left unanswered in the second book, 'A Light in the Window' and is well worth reading by any fan of this series. But ideally it should be read as the third book, not the sixth.

When I first read 'A Common Life', three years ago, I felt a bit disorientated as I had already read books covering later periods of Tim and Cynthia's lives as a married couple. It was a nice book, beautifully written, and I really enjoyed it. But at the same time, I felt as if I had somehow passed that stage.

However, re-reading them all now, I picked it up after finishing the second, and was immediately engrossed. It follows on from the last chapter of 'A Light in the Window', filling in gaps, and giving a wonderful picture of the growing and blossoming love of this delightful couple.

Some of this book is written from Cynthia's perspective although the majority still follows Father Tim in his day-to-day life, mixing with parishioners and other friends, and going through the inevitable pre-marital nerves. There's some light humour, and some that is very moving. All in all, a very enjoyable book.

Not really recommended for anyone who hasn't read the first two Mitford books, but - in my view - essential reading for anyone who has read them!

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