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A Particular Place by Mary Hocking
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A Particular Place (1989)

by Mary Hocking

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“Mary Hocking is confirmed as the successor to Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym”
So says the back cover of my 1990 Virago edition of A Particular Place. That is quite an accolade. This is the first Mary Hocking I have read, and on the evidence so far I would agree. Although I am not sure that there is quite the genius for the minutiae of everyday life and the depth of character that I find in Elizabeth Taylor’s work. That should not been seen as any major criticism, as I think Elizabeth Taylor to be almost unparalleled. With themes of marriage and unfaithfulness, and a clergyman his wife and the congregation of an Anglican church in a small West Country town – there are certainly plenty of similarities to both Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym, and although Mary Hocking is neither of those writers, she is undoubtedly a worthy successor to them. Like Taylor and Pym I think Mary Hocking a keen observer of human beings – their expectations and disappointments in life portrayed with both poignancy and humour.
“Norah Kendall seemed to him to epitomize the irrelevance of his profession. Of course, it was a sin to think like this. He sat opposite her, aware that of the two he was the greater sinner and in no way drawn to her by this knowledge.
She raised her head and looked at him, immediately noting the lines of pain around the narrowed eyes. ‘How you must curse people who come on a Saturday afternoon.’ She spoke with wry concern, but the statement was too near the truth of his present condition for him to accept it with good humour. ‘I am always available, I hope.’ He was not given to pompous utterances and disliked himself the more.
‘Of course’ Something trembled in her face which could have been laughter. She looked out of the window while she composed herself and the afternoon sun caught a glint of red in the pale hair. She was at her best now. He had noticed before that in her moments of stillness this woman had that especial gravity which one sees in the faces of people who are listening intently to music, its harmonies reflected in their ordered features. Seen in this light she looked like a woman in whom one would place trust, eminently more suited to the job of counselling than was he.”
New vicar Michael Hoath with a penchant for candlelit processions finds his enthusiasm for challenge somewhat curtailed by the traditionalism of some of his parishioners. He clings resolutely to his faith, but sometimes finds himself patronised or misunderstood by others. Unknown to those around him, Michael has his own quiet struggles and disappointments. His wife Valentine – a keen gardener and amateur dramatist finding herself cast as Hedda Gabler in a forthcoming production, is perhaps not a natural clergy wife, although she seems able to the play the part of one when she needs to. When Michael falls in love with a member of his congregation, a woman “no longer young nor beautiful” Valentine is possibly more surprised than shattered.
Hester – a writer who happens to be Michael‘s aunt, find herself cast unwilling as confidant to Valentine, while Norah – another disappointed wife – turns to Michael. Norah the recent second wife of Hesketh Kendall – is finding it hard enough to adjust to her new life, when Hesketh’s daughter who openly loathes her new stepmother decides to visit – Norah knows she can’t cope. Hesketh is disappointed in his wife, finding she is not the saint his first wife was, that her domestic capabilities are not as seamless – poor Norah unable to simply produce beautiful meals as if by magic. Good natured, practical, Shirley Treglowan is a single mother – whose husband left her for a man – with an eighteen year old son bent on anthropology who slopes around the place acting the part of Neanderthal man.
Mary Hocking presents these excellent characters and their disappointments with wry humour and sympathy, her writing is very good indeed, the sentiments are not over blown and there is real understanding behind them. I think I am already a fan of Mary Hocking’s writing, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘A Particular Place’ and I will be looking out for more of her novels – especially her family trilogy Good Daughters, Indifferent Heroes and Welcome Strangers which looks right up my alley.
I find myself fascinated by who Mary Hocking was – I can find out virtually nothing about her even by googling. She was born in 1921 – so theoretically could still be alive – her books seem to have been published between 1961 and the mid 1990’s. Several of her books were published by Virago in the 1980’s and 90’s, although I suspect they are harder to find now. If anyone knows anything further please share it with me I am madly curious - and delighted to have discovered a new (to me at least) author. I wonder if Mary Hocking isn’t a writer we should all be reading and shouting about – getting her re-issued for everyone to enjoy. ( )
3 vote Heaven-Ali | Jun 16, 2013 |
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In this, her most memorable and triumphant novel to date, Mary Hocking is confirmed as the successor to Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym. The parishioners of a small West Country market town are uncertain what to make of their new Anglican vicar with his candlelit processions. And, though Michael Hough embraces challenge, his enthusiasm is sapped by their dogged traditionalism. Moreover Valentine's imperial temperament is more suited to the amateur dramatics she excels at than the role of vicar's wife. Their separate claims to insecurity are, for the most part concealed and so both are surprised when Michael falls in love with a member of his congregation, a married woman, neither young nor beautiful. In tracing the effects of this unlikely attraction, Mary Hocking offers humour, sympathy and an overwhelming sense of the poignancy of human expectations.
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