There’s never any privacy, really, in keeping an inn,
even when one lies in one’s own bed.
Personal life and possessions are so blended into the business,
there’s no telling where one stops and the other begins.
One is ever in the company of others.
But it’s what we love, of course, and one pays a price always for what is loved.
In Jan Karon’s second Father Tim novel, In the Company of Others, Tim and Cynthia Kavanagh take a long-anticipated trip to County Sligo, Ireland. Cynthia’s fractured ankle is re-injured in Ireland; instead of touring the country, they explore people —relationships— as they remain ensconced at Broughadoon, a fishing lodge on the shores of Lough Arrow. The unexpected delay allows Father Tim and Cynthia — each in their unique way — to become connected in an intimate way to the cast of Irish characters. In down times, they read the 1862 journal of a Philadelphia-trained doctor, Fintan O’Donnell. The journal provides a story within a story.
Karon two main themes are redemption and connection. Father Tim’s reluctance to leave home, for example:
He was not a man to part easily with home, from his dog,
from his now legally adopted son, Dooley, who was
twenty-one going on forty-five. Such things need
watchful tending, like a cook fire. One mustn’t go
long away from connections lest something fragile die out.
One could not fetch that particular fire from neighbors. 19
Mitford lovers will recognize Karon’s motifs: simple pleasures — reciting poetry, reading books, walks and jogs —; life with diabetes; tortured souls; cackling laughter; and reconciliation. There’s a bit of mystery too. I almost choked with laughter when Cynthia said, I wish I’d read more P.D. James.
Jan Karon’s prose reminds me of Celtic music: a lilting tune, an unexpected chord, some rhythmic change-ups. There is nothing quite so satisfying as the perfect word, a fluent phrase, a metaphor that makes you gape in admiration:
A goulash of gear… 68
gormless (= stupid, dull)
gobsmacked (= astounded)
In terms of never giving up, this was a very Churchillian dog. 83
Bella Flaherty was fenced by a thicket of nettles… 235
…the chiaroscuro of moldering plaster
…a hat rack of ball caps embalmed in dust
…took [dinner] in their room, withered as weeds
Cynthia sat reading amid a wave of books
washed onto the shore of the duvet. He was
stashed in the wing chair, imbibing his own pleasures. 213
The buzz of the bee marked the runes of his prayer. 323
I found Fintan O’Donnell’s journal tedious: more characters to keep straight, a parallel plot to track. My respect for Jan Karon kept me reading, though I was tempted to skip it. It was a good decision. Fintan’s story was tied together in a beautiful way that brought me to tears.
At the core, however, the relationship between Tim and Cynthia is what delights me. In Home to Holly Springs, the first Father Tim novel, because Tim takes a solitary journey to face his past, his marriage to Cynthia gets only brief mentions. Happily, the interplay in this happy marriage of two flawed individuals gets front seat in the Ireland book. When their travel plans are stalled, their perspective is refreshing:
We’ll never have this time again,
it’s come to us as a gift,
maybe we don’t know how to open it.
They are comfortable together, but comfortable apart, too. I love Cynthia’s daily benediction to Tim, Go and be as the butterfly. Their mutual love, concern, as demonstrated in small ways, makes this a book worth reading. I’m still ruminating over a remark of Tim’s, A pet occupation of the Enemy is to distance us from intimacy.