Book Review: In the Company of Others

In the Company of Others is the second of the Father Tim novels by Jan Karon. Father Tim, as most may know, was the central character in Karon’s delightful Mitford series, but the Father Tim novels take him out of his well-beloved town.

In this book, Father Tim and Cynthia finally embark on their long-awaited trip to Ireland, the land of his roots. He has been there once before but is looking forward to showing Cynthia the sights.

Trouble arrives fairly soon, though, as Cynthia injures her ankle, causing her to have to be off her feet, the lodge where they are staying suffers a series of burglaries, and the family who owns the lodge is wounded by a rebellious daughter and a distant mother/mother-in-law, a bitter old woman who experiences serious health issues. Even Dooley, back home in Mitford, phones them concerning serious problems with his girlfriend, Lace.

As Father Tim and Cynthia are unable to travel due to her ankle, they get caught up in the lives of the folks in the area and try to help where they can. As they recuperate they enjoy reading an old journal that eventually leads them to a clue of help in the current situation at the lodge.

Reading In the Company of Others was like a comfortable visit with old friends. I enjoyed hearing bits from and references to the old Mitford gang (loved hearing long-suffering secretary Emma’s personality come through her e-mails), and I often get a little misty at Father Tim’s wonder over his wife and his later-in-life marriage. I love his interaction with Cynthia and the personal conflicts he wrestles with — wanting to take Cynthia to Ireland but hating travel, trying to control his diabetes but being tempted by things he shouldn’t eat, hating controversy but needing to express truth.

Some of the most valuable sections in the book come from his advice to lodge proprietor Anna from his experience of dealing with his own “wounded boy,” his adopted son, Dooley:

“We think of love as warm and cozy, and that’s certainly part of it. But it was hard to muster those feelings toward someone who vented his life-long rage at me.”

“It’s not the sort of thing romantics wish to hear, but I found that in the end, love must be a kind of discipline. If we love only with our feelings, we’re sunk — we may feel love one day and something quite other the next…I realized I must learn to love with my will, not my feelings…”

“I learned over a long period of trial and error to see in him what God made him to be. Wounded people use a lot of smoke and mirrors, they thrust the bitterness and rage out there like a shield. Then it becomes their banner, and finally, their weapon. But I stopped falling for the bitterness and rage. I didn’t stop knowing it was there — and there for a very good reason — but I stopped taking the bullet for it. With God’s help, I was able to start seeing through the smoke.”

“Healing came as little drops of water, and never the mighty ocean when you need it.”

“There’s just no way to deal with their suffering, except through love. And there was no way I could gouge that kind of love out of my own selfish hide without the love of God” (pp. 238-240).

Though parts of the story are more ecumenical that I personally am comfortable with, and though I wouldn’t agree with every little point of theology portrayed in the book, gospel truth is clear but not obtrusive.

Though I appreciate the book more and more as I ponder it, and a great deal more than the first Father Tim novel, Home to Holly Springs, I probably enjoyed it maybe a smidgen less that the Mitford novels. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because of missing Mitford and its people, but I don’t think so — I really don’t think much more could be done with those characters. Maybe it’s because some of the plot lines seem a little edgier that those in Mitford, but then again, not really, either, considering Dooley’s back story. I did find it a little ironic that many characters in the book mention that they haven’t read much of the journal Father Tim and Cynthia read because it’s too dry and boring — and then great chunks of it are quoted in the text. Yet once I got used to the language and got straight who all the different people were, I began to enjoy those parts as well and was delighted at the way their stories were wrapped up in the end.

I’m not sure if Jan Karon is planning any more adventures with Father Tim and Cynthia, but I will be glad to visit with them again if she does.

(This review will be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday review of books and the next 5 Minutes For Books I Read It column.)

15 thoughts on “Book Review: In the Company of Others

  1. What a terrific review, Barbara. I was at my library’s books for sale the other day and, forgetting whether These High Green Hills was part of the original series or not (it is), I bought it. I was hoping to get into the second series. This one sounds really good. And I appreciate the excerpt you pulled from it.

  2. I loved the original Mitford books and will read these when I have time. Hope she’s not stretching herself in order to keep cranking out books – maybe that was the “smidgen less” you referred to. Just a thought.

  3. Oh, I am so glad you liked it! I agree with the way you’ve pegged it as being a little better than Home to Holly Springs but liking it a little less than Mitford. I think I’d agree with that. I, too, liked the connection with Mitford that Karon kept – even though Father Tim and Cynthia are in Ireland.

    I’d definitely read more! I really like her characters a lot.

  4. I have read the Mitford books several times…I loved being a part of a small town with all its personalities.

    I think she’ll probably write more….certainly if Dooley and (her name escapes me) get married, that could bring us back to Mitford…but Father Tim has moved on so to speak from his bachelor days as the pastor of a church. I’m so glad she continues to keep us informed about his life.

    This book seemed meatier than the Mitford books…I enjoyed the stories within the story and loved the Journal..what a treasure finding one of those would be.

    You did a great job on the review, Barbara.
    Mama Bear

  5. The only Jan Karon I’m familiar with is Jeremy: The Tale of an Honest Bunny. It’s okay, but a little ponderous. I’ve heard so many positive things about the Mitford books that I do want to read one soon… It sounds from what you say here like Mitford would be the place to start.

  6. Hi,

    I’m your book swap partner so decided to stop by and say hello. I LOVED the Mitford series and was terribly sad when they were finished. I felt like I knew the people personally and loved all of the varied personalities. I didn’t know this book was out so will have to get it. I love clean books with a message and felt the gospel was given quite clearly and simply. I could read them all again!!!!

    Stop by and give me a holler! :o) I enjoyed reading your testimony.

  7. Pingback: Fall Into Reading 2010 Wrap-Up « Stray Thoughts

  8. I wanted to read a review to see if anyone else thought the same way about this book. I’ve read most of the Mitford series twice. I consider them to be a ‘vacation for the soul’. This book is very different in literary style. At times the style seemed to bog down for me, making me weary, and at other times I loved what Karon did with the words. Very skillful. I think maybe this is a book that will speak to me more in a second reading. If I listen to some Irish dialect first, so I can hear the lit as I read, it might be even more enjoyable!

  9. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: December 11, 2010 | Semicolon

  10. Pingback: The Mitford Books | Stray Thoughts

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