In the Company of Others – Jan Karon

   Summary (Amazon): Jan Karon’s new Father Tim series, launched with her New York Times bestselling Home to Holly Springs, thrilled legions of Mitford devotees, and also attracted a whole new set of readers. “Lovely,” said USA Today. “Rejoice!” said The Washington Post.

In this second installment in the series, Father Tim and Cynthia arrive in the west of Ireland, intent on researching his Kavanagh ancestry from the comfort of a charming fishing lodge. The charm, however, is broken entirely when Cynthia startles a burglar and sprains her already-injured ankle. Then a cherished and valuable painting is stolen from the lodge owners, and Cynthia’s pain pales in comparison to the wound at the center of this bitterly estranged Irish family.

In the Company of Others is a moving testament to the desperate struggle to hide the truth at any cost and the powerful need to confess. Of all her winning novels, Jan Karon says this “dark-haired child” is her favorite.

My Review:

Executive Summary: pensive

I borrowed this book for our book club book swap. It’s not a book that I would have picked by myself, which is why book swaps can really be a hit or a miss. In this case, it was a little of both.

The story is about an (American) Episocopal priest, Father (Reverend) Tim Kavanaugh and his wife Cynthia.  My understanding is that this is the second book in the “Father Tim” stories, and it’s one of a bunch of books in “The Mitford Series.” (I may be incorrect. I’m unfamiliar with this author.)

Tim and Cynthia decide to go on vacation to Ireland to a little B&B that Tim had visited many years earlier when he was a bachelor. They are planning to meet with Tim’s cousin and his wife to travel all around Ireland, but things don’t exactly go as planned. While there, Cynthia goes back up to her room and there is an intruder hiding in their wardrobe. He jumps out and flees out the window, but Cynthia is so startled, she turns her ankle and is all but bedridden for most of the trip (conveniently to prolong the story, as she gets better, she slips again setting herself back in recovery).

This mystery followed with the unsettled attitude surrounding nearly every family member of the inn’s owners is the basic premise for the story. The inn is owned by Liam and Anna. Anna’s daughter Bella is also around as well as Anna’s father, William. Liam’s mother and brother live nearby, and there is a great schism in their relationship. At the same time, Cynthia finds a journal written by the original builder of Liam’s mother’s place. So all the stories become intertwined. This honestly was very confusing to me at times because it was very difficult to keep track of all of the characters (as well as the extraneous characters who were also staying at the inn and people who Tim and Cynthia knew from home).

One by one, all of the main characters who were alive (begrudgingly at times) confess what is causing them anguish to either Father Tim or in some cases (Bella) to Cynthia. The reader finds out piecemealed that Anna’s father, William, was in love with Liam’s mother, Evelyn. Back in the day, he was a boxer, and by the time he got some sense into him and came back to her, she was already married and had had Liam’s brother Paddy. Liam was born only 9 months later, causing both Liam and Anna to separately believe that they might be half-siblings. Eleanor had a hard life, being abandoned by William, and then “causing” an explosion which killed her parents and siblings. (She didn’t actually cause the explosion; she merely opened the door causing oxygen to enter the already gas-laden house). She never mentally recovered from this and took out her anguish on everyone in her reach. In her old age, she needs to withdraw from alcohol as her liver is close to failure. During this, she also falls, injuring herself and is bedridden for all of the detox. Some combination of the detox, old age, and Father Tim causes her to repent and make her amends to everyone.

At the same time, the mystery of the intruder, and later in the story, the stolen painting, is traced back to Bella. An angsty teen, she recently moved back in with her mother, and is very unhappy with the lack of music as well as the solitude of the place. A previous employee named Jack Slade (obviously a baddie with a name like that) convinced Bella that he would get some money and take her to London with him. After helping him steal the painting and seeing the after-effect anguish that it had on her mother, Bella turns him in (he’s already in jail for stabbing a guy) and makes amends with Anna and Liam.

After solving all the problems in the area, and Cynthia’s ankle healing enough to be able to travel, Tim and Cynthia head off to Dublin for a few days before heading home, promising to visit again soon.

Verdict: 3 stars

I thought the book overall was good. It was lighthearted, and was not overly forceful on the religious aspects. The main drawback for me on the book was both its length (and associated lack of plot to sustain the length) as well as the overwhelming number of characters. The descriptive sections were great of the main (living) characters. It felt almost as though you knew them and felt like you were at the place. I felt it hard to follow the story of the characters in the journal, and despite one tie-in of the book to the current time, I did not really see the point of it. I wonder if I had read the prior book, if I would have enjoyed this book more.

 

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