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The Clear Light of Day by Penelope Wilcock

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Review of The Clear Light of Day

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The Advocate

The Clear Light of Day
by Penelope Wilcock

Reviewed by Heather R. Hunt

"...a well-written novel... for those who love contemplative country novels, such as the Mitford series, Penelope Wilcock's new trilogy set in English country villages may be just the cup of tea you're looking for."

Here's a cozy British novel without the murder, which is exactly what I love. Because after all, isn't "cozy mystery" an oxymoron since the mystery is usually a murder - and dead bodies aren't very cozy? But I digress ... In "The Clear Light of Day," Penelope Wilcock tells the meditative tale of a forty-something Methodist minister who struggles with loneliness despite the rigorous social responsibilities of the small country circuit of three chapels that she shepherds.

Esme Browne is recently divorced after her husband left her when she received her ordination. Her family also defines success in terms of useful marriages and career accomplishments to the point that her father advises her to "put your career first. Friends are all very well, but I'm afraid what you must do is just move on and forget them ... The job has to come first." Ouch.

Esme the minister wonders at this wisdom and Esme the woman is torn by the feeling of belonging she has found in the backwoods farm of bicycle repairman and all-around fixer-upper Jabez Farrell. He's a grey-haired bewhiskered sixty-something widower with no worldly ambitions who took in his eighty-something neighbor and self-named independent woman, Seer Ember, when her cottage threatened to collapse around her. In other words, the opposite of Esme's father.

Yet when one of Esme's stewards responds to her request for a bicycle by referring her to Jabez, Esme is pulled in to the otherworldly atmosphere that inhabits his land with its apple orchard, hen house, workshop, and living quarters. She feels like she is stepping back in time to a simpler lifestyle and as she grows into friendship with Jabez and Ember, she realizes how deliberate their simple lifestyles are. This goes against her upbringing and her training, and yet all she knows is that the only place she finds peace is on this property, whether curled on the lumpy sofa in front of the constantly burning fire in the cozy living room, or perched near the ever-glowing pile of ashes inside the workshop or propped against the outside wall of the workshop on fine afternoons chatting while Jabez tinkers with his latest repair project.

Jabez's and Ember's lived-in space, which has been carved out of decades of living in one place, contrasts starkly with Esme's parsonage and its inoffensive decor meant to accommodate any and all passing ministers who serve there. Yet Jabez is no churchgoer and, in fact, has great animosity against organized religion. Should Esme be spending so much time with a villager who has no intention of ever stepping foot into one of her chapels?

This is a book to read while curled up yourself on the corner of a comfy couch or your favorite reading chair in front of a crackling fire or at least a burning candle. Jabez and Ember both open up to Esme over time about their deeply held - and lived - religious and philosophical world views. Their speeches are sometimes long for a novel, and perhaps reflect the sermonizing habits of Wilcock, who is herself a Methodist minister. Yet pondered with a good cup of tea, they will make you think. Jesus is not much mentioned and this is a challenge for the Christian believer, yet much of what Jabez believes jives with Jesus' teaching and ministry.

I'm glad to read in Wilcock's interview in the "after words" section - which mimics the "etc." section at the back of NavPress books - that this book is the first in a trilogy. I look forward to the second book called "The Light Returning" to see where she is going with these thoughts. Some readers may consider them a bit New Age, but if this challenge leads us back to the Scriptures to search out the teachings like the Bereans who Paul recommended so highly, then the novel has succeeded.

"The Clear Light of Day" is a contemplative, well-written novel that features leading characters who are all over the age of forty. Bravo. It's fitting, therefore, that these people ponder life and spirituality from a deeper perspective gained from their lifetimes of experience. As such, however, it may be a bit slow-moving for younger readers. Chick lit it is not. But for those who love contemplative country novels, such as the Mitford series, Penelope Wilcock's new trilogy set in English country villages may be just the cup of tea you're looking for.

Heather R. HuntHeather R. Hunt is a business editor in Connecticut. For fun she reads, writes, cheers on the Red Sox, and enjoys tennis and cycling. She also co-leads a local tea party and enjoys holding government officials and media outlets accountable. Check out her blogs, The View from Stonewater and Connecticut for Sarah Palin.