When I started reading the book that first introduced Father Tim, At Home in Mitford, I was entranced from the first page. This second book in the Father Tim series (which follows the Mitford series) took several chapters to draw me into the story. But I’m glad I kept reading, because In the Company of Others is as full of mixed-up people finding the difficult but wonderful way back to God as the Mitford books were.
In fact, it’s even more full of mixed-up people, and part of the difficulty in reading it is keeping track of them. There are the other visitors at the fishing lodge, the family and staff who run the place, as well as related family at the big manor house nearby. The fact that there is a mystery about just how some of the people are related just makes it that much more confusing to sort them out. And there are not just the people in the present whom Father Tim and Cynthia interact with, but also those whose lives are recounted in a dusty old journal that Father Tim and Cynthia are reading during their vacation in Ireland.
This journal is probably the biggest complaint readers have about the book. No one but Father Tim and Cynthia wants to read it, because “‘t is long-winded as any politician…” But the retired priest and his wife are fascinated by this special window into the life of a nineteenth century American-trained Irish country doctor. (They became so caught up in the lives of these long-dead people that they found themselves praying for them.) I found many of the journal passages boring myself, but forced myself to read them because Karon obviously considered them an integral part of the story.
For people with an interest in Ireland and its history (which no doubt includes Jan Karon, who did a great deal of research for this book), the novel may be a special treat. (The flyleaf indicates that Karon considers it her favorite.) I didn’t have too much trouble with the written Irish brogue, which some readers find more difficult. I enjoy historical fiction, particularly of the British Isles, so I took some interest in the history recounted in the journal. But I think I would rather have read a book entirely devoted to that story, rather than just the diary excerpts mixed into another book.
The peculiarities of human character and their interactions with one another are always central to Karon’s books, with Father Tim usually being the one to also point people the way to interact with God as well. Here on vacation, with his wife largely confined to her room due to an injured ankle, he becomes the confidant people turn to in their distress – even though they are Catholic and he is a Protestant. As he did in Mitford, and everywhere he goes, he listens, he counsels (including hard advice, like forgiveness instead of bitterness, and listening instead of making promises), and he reminds people of God’s gracious love.
People in pain do not easily take his advice. Reconciliation with people who have hurt each other many times over the years is not easy, nor is reconciliation with a God who has not made life easy either for those who follow him or those who do not. But those who are willing to accept His help to reconcile with each other and with Him find the blessing of doing so, and hope for the future even though their troubles do not go away (especially as many of their troubles are of their own making).