At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Title: At Home in Mitford
Author: Jan Karon
Series: The Mitford Years #1
Genre: Christian, contemporary fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books, 1996
Source: Library
Read for: Fun

Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest and a bachelor set in his ways, is tired, lacking the drive to continue in his work. However, as new people and experiences come into his life, from a diagnosis of diabetes to a pretty and whimsical new neighbor to the mystery of an international jewel theft, Father Tim finds that life in Mitford is never slow.

In general, I avoid Christian fiction. This is not for any lack of belief or aversion to hearing about Christianity as I am a Christian myself. However, I have found in much of the genre that stories follow a standard plot with many characters that seem the same. This is not the case in the Mitford books, a series I first picked up when I was in sixth grade. I'm not sure what my eleven-year-old self found to enjoy in reading about the escapades of a small-town Episcopalian priest, but I remembered the books with nostalgia and have lately felt impelled to pick them up again. I was not disappointed on my reread, finding Father Tim's adventures to be refreshing and wholesome -- something that is often hard to find in modern literature.

The plot is somewhat episodic, following Father Tim and his congregation through the triumphs and trials of day-to-day life. He deals with his own changes in life, such as being diagnosed with diabetes and his growing distraction from his pretty neighbor, a children's book illustrator. He has a congregation member waiting for a heart transplant, another with large sums of money hoping to make a contribution, one with schizophrenia who needs help managing her large home. He meets a rough-around-the-edges boy who needs supervision, a homeless man who has more wisdom than most, a huge dog that brings him out of his self-imposed isolation. There are multiple sub-plots going at once, and in general this was positive. The book has a slow, relaxed overall tone, and the multiple stories kept my interest strong and invested. My one complaint is that at times, the movement from scene to scene was a bit abrupt, and because it wasn't extremely connected, I would lose sense of the time frame, thinking that more time had passed than actually had.

I love the characters, all of them quirky and unique. There are no stereotypes or cookie-cutter cut-outs here (unless you count the stereotype that small towns are full of quirky people). Father Tim is adorable; at times set in his ways, but always giving, always trying to improve himself. I love how human he is; instead of being portrayed as this mighty, infallible man of God, he has his own struggles, his own areas in which he needs to improve. I also enjoyed his extremely quirky neighbor, Cynthia Coppersmith; a woman who goes on picnics by herself, captures small animals in order to draw them, and a tendency to leave curlers in her hair. I thought she was an interesting foil for Father Tim -- they are a pair I would never have thrown together, but their differences allow them to grow and have new experiences despite their ages. The supporting characters are also strong and unique, populating the book with interesting people at every turn.

The inspirational aspect of the book was also a success for me. Christian books run the risk of being off-putting by being too preachy, but At Home in Mitford does not fall into that trap. It packs powerful messages of love, redemption, faith, and personal growth, but it delivers them in an unassuming, gentle way that is actually inspiring, rather than a guilt trip. I felt so uplifted by this book -- every time I sat down to read it was an absolute pleasure. The book wasn't all cheerfulness and sunshine -- there were dark moments and struggles for all of the characters. However, instead of giving in to adversity and hard times, these characters overcome through their faith and determination. I loved reading that -- so much of what I come across is dark, illuminating the defeat and the ugliness in the world, and it was nice to be reminded that it is possible to rise above situations.

So overall, this lovely little reread was the perfect comfort novel. I further appreciated the fact that it wasn't just a fairy tale of perfect, happy little people -- there were problems, and things to learn, and personal growth for all of them. I am looking forward to revisiting the rest of this series.

4.5 stars

Warnings: Nada.


  1. I feel the exact same way every time I read one of these books. Lovely.

  2. I need to read the rest of the series! I am seriously craving them.


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