Nestled in the rolling hills of North Carolina, the little town of Mitford has much to be desired. The air is pure, the village is charming, and the people are generally lovable. Yet, Father Tim, the bachelor rector, wants something more. Enter a dog the size of a sofa who moves in and won’t go away. Add an attractive neighbor who begins wearing a path through the hedge. Now, stir in a lovable but unloved boy, a mystifying jewel theft, and a secret that’s sixty years old. Suddenly, Father Tim gets more than he bargained for.
The first thing that struck me about Mitford was the whimsy of it. The author seems to revel in the ordinary things of life, as demonstrated on the very first page when Father Tim “was delighted to discover that he wasn’t walking, at all. He was ambling.” And though the characters of the book and the circumstances they find themselves in are anything but ordinary, the same attention paid to everyday things that is found on page one remains a priority throughout the rest of the novel. In many books this kind of attention to detail would grow cumbersome, but Karon lavishes such colorful vocabulary on these simple moments that they rarely seem trite.
Yet another thing I love about At Home in Mitford is the balance between fantasy and realism that Jan strikes so perfectly. While it is unlikely the reader will ever encounter a town as ideally removed from pop culture as Mitford is, the struggles of Mitford’s populace–diabetes, old age, poverty, heart disease, unforgiveness, anger, and lost opportunities–are the same struggles so many face today, whether living in a small town or the big city. Likewise, the joys Mitford residents encounter throughout the book are the same joys experienced by people everywhere. This makes it easy to identify with the characters, to invest in the outcome of their trials and triumphs.
Plot: One might think that a book about a small town in the hills of North Carolina would be anything but exciting, yet Jan Karon has a knack for weaving everyday happenings with little adventures which involved me in the story so much that it kept me up reading ’til late at night. There are many plots and sub-plots throughout the book, each of which is unique, believable, and thoroughly engaging.
Characters: Father Tim is an extremely likable character, good in so many ways, yet still human enough for the reader to identify with. Karon brings Father Tim to life in a way that makes him seem infinitely interesting. Cynthia Coppersmith is likewise a fun, lovable personality which brings the story to life. Dooley, Puny, Louella, Miss Sadie, and all the rest (there are over 700 characters in the whole series) are extremely well crafted and come to life on the pages.
Ending: I think the ending of this book was simply perfect, full of hope and excitement for the future. Jan brings closure to many areas of the story, while leaving enough questions unanswered to make me eager to read the second book in the series.
Writing: Karon has a fluid, playful writing style and an expansive vocabulary. She frequently breaks up chapters into smaller sections, hopping back and forth between scenes.
Format: I love the painting featured on the cover which brings the town to life. I also love the beautifully drawn map of Mitford featured in the front of the book. (The map from the newer editions is far more detailed than that from the older versions.) The little drawings that decorate the chapter headings throughout the book are a wonderful added touch.
At Home in Mitford is a tale that will live long in the hearts of many who read it. To borrow Karon’s words, you’ll want to surrender yourself to the stolen joy of it, as some might eat half a box of chocolates, without remorse.
Have you read At Home in Mitford? What did you think?