Posted by: Nathan | November 4, 2008

My First Visit to Mitford

J and I recently finished the first in Jan Karon’s neuftet of Mitford novels, At Home in Mitford, and we enjoyed it. Well, I enjoyed it; J slept through most of it. It is easy to see the appeal of these books. The reader is placed in a small mountain village in North Carolina and follows the life of Father Tim and his interactions with the myriad of characters who inhabit the town. It is a place where people care about each other even though they occasionally annoy each other. Essentially, it’s like your life except happier and more friendly.

mitfordThe strength of the book is its characters. The relative short length of the book (~300 pages) doesn’t prevent Karon from piling up all sorts of people who each have their own quirks. As the novel progresses, the reader becomes more involved (and therefore more interested) in who these people are, what moves them, and how they are a part of the town. In many cases, Karon is able to evoke a sense of character without much description, which is a talent indeed. These folks are simple people whose appeal is in their normalcy. Karon crafts a welcoming world that is also somehow realisitic, which is not easy in our skeptical time.

Ironically, the characters are also a weakness of the book simply because they are too many. I confess that remembering who is who in a novel that features more than approximately ten characters is a struggle for me and one of my failings as a reader. That said, Karon throws too many people at the reader in this book for squi to possibly remember. One constantly encounters a name that is vaguely familiar and cannot recall who that person is, where squi first showed up, and why squi matters. For me, the book reads like “Father Tim and Co.,” with the “Co.” consisting of a revolving group of characters depending on who showed up most recently. Father Tim, I should note, is a wonderful character to build the novel around. The Espicopal priest is intelligent, humorous, and caring.

At Home in Mitford is always enjoyable. There are dull spots due to lack of a central plot, but the appeal of the characters sustains the novel. It is ideal bedtime reading because one enjoys it thoroughly but is able to put it down without much regret. It also lends itself to being read aloud. When I finished it, I immediately wanted the sequel not because I had to know what happened but because Mitford is such a pleasant place to be. I imagine I’ll continue the series eventually, and when I do, I’ll definitely peruse it before shutting my eyes. Mitford succeeds because it does not aspire to unattainable grandeur; it is a simple, appealing, and occasionally moving read, and that’s all it needs to be.

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