Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Finding Myself in Britain (Book Review)

It was so appropriate that, to read the final chapter of this particular book, I settled down in the Rectory garden with a cup of tea, escaping the noise of a workman ripping out our bathroom upstairs.  After all, in the previous chapters, Amy Boucher Pye had written entertainingly about the British obsession with tea (and giving tea to workmen), life in a vicarage, and in particular the plumbing!  I’d laughed at her description of a typical vicarage shower “like an Irish mist, in which one would need to jump around in order to get wet” and cheered her on as she confessed to leaving a trail of power showers in all her dwellings - I’m sure there are several vicars’ families who bless her daily for that.
Amy’s story of finding herself in Britain - not only transplanted from her American home and culture, but also married to an Anglican priest with all of the culture shock that can entail - is full of humour, faith and insight, not to mention facts about America I never knew, and facts about how the two nations experience each other that should be essential reading for anyone planning to cross the Atlantic.  She compares her life’s journey, her being in the right place while still longing for home, to the experience of any Christian, outlined in Hebrews*: living as foreigners on the earth and seeking the city to come. And of course, “Finding Myself in Britain” is a particularly clever title as Amy begins to work out a new way of life and a way to root the identities of herself and her children.
I loved the way that Amy structured the book on the different seasons of the church year, being an inveterate season-dweller myself: I compared notes, took tips and ideas, and raised an eyebrow at the strange order of her Advent wreath candles.  I so enjoyed being a fly on the wall for fasts and feasts and family times.
There was a 'notes' section at the back to explain Ameracinisms to the British readers and vice versa, which was often worth flipping to for the amusing definitions even if I reckoned I knew the word. The only slightly distracting thing was the constant and apparently random use of italicised phrases - I think they were meant as asides to the reader, though they would often have fitted perfectly well into the text - but perhaps that's just another cultural difference, and a way of the author's voice coming through loud and clear.
Amy was full of valuable advice, too, which was woven cunningly into her story and emerged to catch my breath when I was least expecting it.  I’ve written down some of what she had to say about identity and being a vicar’s wife and stuck it above my desk.  And there were poems and anecdotes and even a recipe section at the back.  What was this book?  A memoir?  A devotional?  A how-to-live-in-a-vicarage manual?

Whatever it was, I didn’t actually want to read the final chapter as I sat there in the garden.  Closing the book was like having to say goodbye to a friend after a week’s holiday together.  Thankfully, though, you can always turn back to page 1 of a book and start again.  And then there’s all those recipes to try.

* Hebrews 11 verses 13-14 and 13 verse 14

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