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Out for Onions

01 January 2016

Fiona Hook reads a well-observed novel

The Rector of Pepynbridge
Peter Morrell
i2i Publishing £8.95
(978-0-99 -32432-5-7)
Church Times Bookshop £8.05 (use code CT111)


HELL hath no fury like a Low Church parochial church council forced to accept a high-church rector. The East Midlands village of Pepynbridge supplied volunteers for Cromwell’s New Model Army. Now, after being spectacularly unlucky with the last rector, who attracted press attention when he punched a parishioner and ran away with his wife, they’re faced with a choice of taking the bishop’s nominee, or being merged with another parish. But they’re not happy, and the knives are out for the hapless incumbent.

Herbert Onions, bachelor and gifted musician, has the support of Bishop Julian, who knows why he left his teaching job and respects his decision to suppress his sexual orientation and remain celibate. A born peacemaker, Onions gives the villagers the services they want, and transforms the choir, with the help of a splendid treble soloist, into a body that can make recordings to raise funds for the church roof. As Onions’s relationship with the schoolteacher Julie develops, an unhappy teenager accuses him of impropriety, and suddenly he is on trial for a crime he didn’t commit, and facing ruin.

Morrell is very good at depicting the tensions that occur in a small village, and even how shockingly vicious regular churchgoers can be. He reminds us that ministers are only human, and flies the flag for the idea that not every sexual impulse should be acted on. His cast of characters — doctor, farmer, lady of the manor — is very well observed, particularly the ignorant bigot who really believes God is an Englishman. Onions is a quiet and credible witness to a faith that stands between him and disaster, and allows him to forgive his accuser. It is less believable, however, to suggest that 30 volunteer singers could become a choir of professional standard in three months, however gifted the conductor.

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