The Rector’s Wife may seem a strange choice for the first book review on a blog about mental health, however, it deals with themes which will resonate with those whose who feel trapped in their situation. As these are feelings I’ve read expressed often on fellow mental health blogs, it seemed eminently suitable.
Joanna Trollope is known for her mainstream novels – of which this is one – but also for her romance novels, published under the pseudonym Caroline Harvey. The Rector’s Wife contains elements of romance, but at its heart is a story about a woman finding her way to an authentic existence under constrained conditions.
Anna Bouverie is the wife of a parish priest in rural England. Life is stressful: money is chronically short, her marriage is failing, her husband’s parishioners demand much from her, and her youngest daughter is miserable in the local government school. When her husband is overlooked yet again for promotion, Anna finds herself in crisis, and rebels against the constraints of the role her husband and others have presumed for her.
As she begins to regain shreds of self-worth through positive action, three very different men become attracted to her. Each plays a role in her regaining a worthwhile life, but ultimately it is Anna, and the choices she makes, which lift her and her family out of misery and into a new way of being.
The chronically depressed – such as me – may find many parallels between their lives and Anna’s. At the start of the novel, she is being ground down by the oppressive demands on her time, energy and spirit. Life seems drab, and whatever opportunities exist for hope seem doomed for failure. However, as the book progresses, Anna frees herself of those things which hold her down and emerges, butterfly-like, into a new and flourishing existence.
The take-home message for me from this book is twofold: that we, as humans, have the power to make choices in our lives; and that doing is the antidote to depression. Anna demonstrates this when she stops ruminating about her situation and begins to take baby steps towards freedom. At first, enormous courage and strength are required for seemingly small gains, but each action brings Anna closer to the sort of life she dreams of having.
The writing is exquisite. I could barely put this book down! Trollope portrays believable characters making believable, albeit difficult, choices.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants inspiration or who is feeling too weighed down by depression to take any positive action at all. Anna reminds us that even small acts can bring about significant change. I know too well the personal inertia which depression brings; I also know the huge difference that doing – taking purposeful action, no matter how small – can make to one’s mood.
My rating? 5/5. Have you read The Rector’s Wife? If so, I’d love to read your comments below!