Friday, October 7, 2011

The Rector's Wife

The Rector's Wife, Joanna Trollope

I devoured this book in a few days and finished it feeling completely overwhelmed.

Anna Bouverie is the rector's wife, mother and general parish dogsbody. When her husband, Peter, gets passed over for a promotion to archdeacon and sinks into a depression, she revolts. Sick of struggling to always make ends meet and the ongoing bullying of her daughter in school, Anna gets a job at the local supermarket to the horror of her husband and disgust of her parishioners. As she and her husband drift further apart, other men begin to show an interest.

It fascinated me on two levels:
1. I could completely understand her entire life. We do not minister in rural England, but it rang true on many, many levels: life in ministry, the continuous nature of pastoral support, the church structures, etc. While I do not live the life Anna lived, I could imagine it completely and the portrayal was frighteningly real. I also know some women whose lives mirror this even more closely that they would probably like to admit.

2. At the same time, on another level, it was completely alien. Anna was not converted. She (and her husband) had no concept of God's grace or glory. No real sense of service and absolutely no joy. His job is his job, even though it impinges quite significantly (and annoyingly) on her life. I am very thankful that while I could understand it it is nothing like my personal experience.

At the end the only word that truly summed it up for me was 'devastating'. It's a devastatingly harsh portrayal of ministry, parish life and people.

* To see another review see Rachael's on in tandem. She summarises the main issues very well.


Meredith said...

Very interested to read your review. I have read this novel a few times over the years. I'm interested in my own reaction to the rector's wife who took over the rectory from Anna. The first time I read the book I was bit shocked at the new one - seeming to fail to observe (reverence, even) all that had taken place in that house prior to her arrival. Subsequent readings and I think the new one has it...converted and getting on with the task at hand without taking herself too seriously. How did you find her - on your first read but reading it as a well thought out minister's wife?

Wendy said...

Hi Meredith, it's taken me a bit of time to get to re-reading those bits! I think your second interpretation is more like mine. The reverence issues don't bother me too much, you can just imagine the parishioners calling Anna to complain!

As I re-read it, I found the husband a little concerning potentially (but we are obviously suposed to with the way she has written it). I did like the way she wrote "he had plans for them (the congregation), evangelical plans, which he had been shrewd enough not to reveal in the interview" - very funny.

But I think you are right, she is getting on with the task at hand, although perhaps a little too robustly and too confidently. She is obviously putting parishioners offside already, which is a concern.

But that's probably all the analysis I can manage since she is only given a handful of pages!

Does that help?