09/05/2016

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (by Jan Karon)

I was introduced to Jan Karon’s books about fifteen years ago, and read my way with delight through the Mitford series featuring the delightful Father Tim and his neighbour - later his wife - Cynthia. After the ninth book, the author wrote a couple of books that delved into Tim’s past, taking him on travels within the US and elsewhere, and I liked them too although I found myself missing the little village of Mitford and its quirky inhabitants.

To my delight, ‘Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good’ sees Tim and Cynthia back in Mitford after their trip to Ireland. Tim is retired and trying to find ways of occupying his time constructively; Cynthia is still writing and illustrating her series of children’s books featuring her cat Violet. Their adopted son Dooley is training as a vet, and clearly very fond of their friends’ adopted daughter Lace, but they’re not making any commitment just yet.

We get to know Sammy, one of Dooley’s brothers, who struggles with any kind of authority and doesn’t really think before taking risks. We meet Coot, too, an uneducated but warm-hearted man who is caring for his very elderly mother. There are scenes in the ‘Happy Endings’ bookshop, and in the various eating places around town; there’s new blood with Shirlene, who has bought an artificial tan machine, and a great deal of stress in Tim’s former church, where the minister is going through a difficult time…

As with the earlier books, this novel is character-based rather than having any single plot. We follow Tim’s life as he volunteers his time in many different ways, tries to meet the needs of those around him, and gently shares God’s love with his former flock. But it’s not preachy or even overly religious; Tim’s faith is part of who he is, his prayers from the heart, his love genuine. He’s flawed and often tired, he sometimes feels low, and he has to limit what he eats due to diabetes.

I think my favourite parts were Coot’s reading lessons and progress, with more than a nod to one of my favourite children’s authors; yet amidst the smiles there’s sadness too, and some very moving moments which the author writes with great sensitivity. Some storylines interested me more than others, and that’s probably inevitable: there’s something in here for anyone who likes this kind of gentle, rambling story.

There were places where I didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on; evidently in my European ignorance I had missed some subtlety of small-town America, but it didn’t matter; I just shrugged and moved on. Sometimes I forgot which Esther was which, or who wanted to make the Orange Marmalade cakes; occasionally I had to flip back and remind myself of some incident, or character, as there’s quite a large cast. But, again, it wasn’t a problem.

It’s quite a long book, and I mostly read it before falling asleep at night, although I found myself dipping into it during the daytime too. It’s not that anything very exciting happens, but once again I felt as if I were part of this realistic and friendly community. It’s been some time since I read the earlier books and I’d planned to re-read them before embarking on this, but then couldn’t resist it: and although I’d forgotten some names and details, I found myself easily caught up again in the lives of the Mitford residents.

While the book stands alone, I think it would be quite confusing to anyone who had not read the earlier books, so I’d recommend strongly reading at least the first few, and ideally all of them. If you like the earlier books in the series, then I recommend this very highly.

It's a wonderful book.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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