ITV’s adaptation of Grantchester has established itself as a deceptively dark drama, highlighting the secret depravity beneath this tranquil village’s placid, bucolic surface. Runcie’s latest novel, in stark contrast to the TV series, is decidedly more optimistic. In The Persistence of Love, our friendly vicar Sidney Chambers (now the arch-deacon of Ely) is trying seek some kind of guidance over whether his role as “an accidental detective” is making him less effective as a priest. From the presentation of the self to the constituent parts of faith and identity, The Persistence of Love
follows Sidney’s private regrets as they bubble to the surface in a delicately woven tapestry that focusing on the high price of love and desire.
May 1971 is Sidney’s best-loved month. He’s about to celebrate his ten-year wedding anniversary to Hildegard, and Anna, his seven-year-old daughter, is finally learning to appreciate the landscape around her, even though Sidney sometimes feels guilty about exposing his daughter to the world of suffering and crime. Sidney is mostly content and at his happiest when he’s having lunch with his old friend, Amanda, or visiting his former housekeeper, Mrs. Maguire. Still, the times are changing--even when the church is not. Sidney’s future secretary, the petite and precise Vanessa Morgan, has just arrived, intent to beguile Sidney with
a series of radical and revolutionary new ideas: a contemporary, inclusive ministry featuring women priests.
From a lover to a lover’s husband to an “enemy hitherto unknown,” the tumult rises
around Grantchester's leading man. In this outing, Sidney finds himself waylaid by the “persistence of desire”--and how important it is to recognize the quieter, humbler, lasting love--even when there are crimes to solve. Sidney and best mate, Georgie, are greeted with their first murder when they’re rushed into an investigation over the death of Lenny Goddard, a local folk singer and poet. Lenny was married to Stella Goddard, one of Sidney’s former parishioners. On the day of his death, Lenny was collecting wolf's bane and laburnum, a collection of particularly poisonous plants.
With Lenny’s murder eventually wrapped up in time for George’s session down the pub and a look at the football results, Sidney finds himself traveling to Brighton, on the hunt for Louis, his rebellious 16-year-old nephew. Assailed by the gaggles of people and by the familiar coastal smells of salt, petrol, and fried fish, Sidney worries that Louis will become homeless in this town of heat and noise, a place where Sidney doesn’t quite know where he’s going or how to proceed. Indeed, Brighton in the 1970s seems a far cry from Sidney’s good old days of the 1950s.
From the tedious business of dealing with Hildegard’s domestic finances to Amanda’s error of judgment when she’s pulled into a get-rich-quick scheme involving an authentication of a Goya painting, Sidney
is pulled into a set of circumstances that threaten to throw him off-balance: “we just have to hold on tight to what makes the best of us.”
The relationship between Sidney and Georgie is central, each suffering with personal demons and in desperate need of a friend. In the long hot summer of 1976, the return of jazz singer Gloria Dee becomes a vital symbol for the way it once was. For the first time, Sidney understands he’s locked in the past in a world that has been swept away by relentless beat of disco and the emerging anger of punk rock music.
The natural, historical beauty of Grantchester and Ely is striking when contrasted with the tragedy in the last heartbreaking story, The Persistence of Love. Hildegard’s nagging headache becomes a terrible manifestation for what Sidney has always feared, “the heart stop before the silence and the recognition of an ending.” Sidney unexpectedly faces a new life as he’s plunged into issues of rape, teenage rebellion, and infidelity. At one stage, he’s forced to search for the whereabouts a pilfered manuscript from Corpus Christi, the gospel book by St. Augustine brought from Pope Gregory in Rome to the county of Kent in 597.
Reaching far beyond Sidney’s heartbreak, this final novel is a considerable departure from where it all began back in 1950s Grantchester, a bucolic oasis of tranquility where strict social mores were observed, emotions were suppressed, and the British stiff upper lip was always in full effect. The liberated 1970s prove to be a far more complex, difficult, sometimes chaotic place
where passion doesn't always seem fit into a perfect box and Sidney’s own brand of love has to take on many forms in order to survive.