This is the last day of Mary Hocking Reading Week (although by the time I post this I think it will be Monday in the UK and I officially missed the deadline) but I am just now getting my impressions about A Particular Place gathered and recorded. I finished the book sometime last week on vacation and haven’t really known what to say about it. And I still don’t feel like I can do it justice, but I am going to do my best to tell you what I think.
This short novel is set in a small town in the West Country and focuses on a small group of parishioners who are connected through their church participation. The vicar, Michael Hoath, is a very intense, serious and traditional man who is married to the cold and beautiful Valentine, an amateur actress. Everyone in the novel is in some kind of crisis, whether emotional or faith-related or family/marriage based. Michael doesn’t really think or know that he is until he falls in love with a rather flaky woman in the congregation and has to come to grips with his own inner turmoil in the midst of helping members of his parish through their various struggles.
So there really isn’t a plot – it’s more a collection of scenes wherein the characters examine themselves, their motives, their beliefs and try to connect with God or their families or their fellow parishioners. The description on the books says it’s a successor to Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor – I feel it’s probably much closer to Taylor as there is hardly any humor in the novel (which started to wear on me) yet I feel it’s unlike Taylor in that Hocking does show a smidge more compassion for her characters than Taylor does. The tone of this novel is hard to pin down. It is melancholy, woeful, at times hopeless, yet there is a transcendence that overshadows it all that makes it luminous.
Did I like it? I’m afraid to say I don’t think I really did, in the end. I admire it and like the writing and the style, but the tone is so dark and the characters so desolate that I couldn’t enjoy it. I think this is a case where I probably don’t understand this novel at all and am misreading everything about it. I am glad that I read it, though, and it won’t prevent me from trying another Mary Hocking novel.