I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations – Exodus 20:5
The Vicar of Sorrows is the story of the decline and fall of one Francis Kreer the vicar of Ditcham, a small parish in Berkshire. Upon the death of his beloved Mummy who, upon hearing a rumor that he was a “Ban the Bomb” clergyman decided to leave half of her estate to a former lover, Francis is thrown into a state of depression from which he can never truly free himself. His own grief is transformed into anger which he viciously directs at his wife Sally who turns in despair to the stuffed toys of her childhood; tidily tucked into the recesses of her wardrobe. This is one wardrobe that fails to yield any of Narnia’s magic and with each trip Sally’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Jay, a young vagabond, casts a powerful spell upon the hapless cleric who abandons Sally and his young daughter Jessica in pursuit of an impossible relationship. It is only the friendship of Wing-Commander Maxwell-Lee, a truly kind man, that sustains Francis until even he is forced to relegate the vicar to the Bishop of Didcot, who wants little more than Francis to sign a letter of resignation (and non-disclosure).
While the book is a tragedy it is not without humor. Wilson is a skilled and impish writer and he shines most brightly when describing his dizzying array of characters. Exemplary is his description of the Archdeacon: ...who derived most of his views from liberal newspapers, took a very lenient view of Damien’s proclivities; but one had to be sensible, and think of the ‘old dears’ in the pew, who might be slower than the rest of us to realize that fornication, when practiced by homosexuals, was no longer exactly a sin.
On the whole The Vicar of Sorrows is something of a sad book as we view the web of deceit, woven by Francis’ mother, transformed into grief then rage and finally a sort of madness that leaves the vicar of Ditcham foaming at the mouth but with no clue as to who he should bite.