The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Pub. Date: July 8, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Atria!)
Summary: The Awakening of Miss Prim is a charming debut novel about a young woman who leaves everything behind to take a librarian job in a remote village of France. Though proud and self-assured, Prudencia Prim’s four advanced degrees make her a little overqualified. Nevertheless, there is something glimmering beneath the surface of the picturesque town of San Ireneo de Arnois that cannot be learned from books. Little by little, the peculiar and unconventional ways test Miss Prim’s world vision, her most intimate fears, and her most profound convictions.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Close your eyes. Picturesque. Charming. Quaint. What do you see? Offbeat. Unconventional. Quirky. This is exactly what you’re getting from The Awakening of Miss Prim. There’s something decidedly old-fashioned about this story – and that’s certainly high praise! One part The Village (bear with me here), one part The Sound of Music, this novel was just plain good and this is a review that scares me. Despite sitting on my thoughts, I’m still unable to come up with the right words to say (apart, of course from I LOVE IT).
Prudencia Prim has more degrees to her name than I have fingers on my hand. With a blatant disregard for a firm “graduates and postgraduates need not apply” and ignoring the “preferably without work experience,” Miss Prim marched up the hydrangea-lined path to inquire about a posting for a librarian position. The Man in the Wingchair (a man never named throughout the duration of the novel) decides to hire her on and Miss Prim quickly comes to realize San Ireneo is a town unlike any other.
The tiny village was founded as a refuge of sorts for those seeking to get away from the intensity of city life. In San Ireneo, values are sacred, gardens are perfectly tended, any goods are produced locally, education is prized (the Man in the Wingchair’s nieces and nephews – all under the age of 11 – are able to recite ancient Greek and Latin works and hold their own in philosophical debates). What makes this town different is that the school teacher? The bookseller? None of these positions are filled by professionals. Shops open simply because the town lacks a particular ware. Miss Prim comes to learn this way of thinking came largely out of the want for the town’s children to have an unbiased education, they learn the basics from the school teacher, but the bulk of their education is learned at various homes, largely the Main in the Wingchair’s private library (which Miss Prim has recently taken to organizing).
The Awakening of Miss Prim is such a delightfully sleepy tale, exactly the kind of story I adore. There wasn’t much in the way of action; instead, there’s a wealth of character development and depth. A variety of topics are explored – religion, philosophy, there’s even a debate on the merits of Mr. Darcy. While I’m relatively unfamiliar with the main bulk of 18th-Century British Literature (sorry, Janites!), The Awakening of Miss Prim felt right at home with those works. The Man in the Wingchair is a gentleman in every aspect of the word, San Ireneo itself had an old, primitive feel, the characters are all exceedingly formal. I loved every minute.
In addition to the story, the storytelling was beautiful too. Entire passages gave me pause and there were pages I read and reread because the language was so breathtaking. What boggles my mind is not only that this is a debut, but it’s also a translation. That a translation could be this gorgeous is nothing short of amazing! It pains me to say that I feel The Awakening of Miss Prim will go unnoticed by the majority, but those of you who actively seek out under-the-radar novels will find a true gem. Fiercely character-driven, intensely thought-provoking, and with an ending that left me wanting more (I need to know!!), The Awakening of Miss Prim is a fantastic debut that I eagarly look forward to revisiting again. If you like your characters prim and proper (Prudencia Prim is a most apt name) with more than a hint of quirk, do yourself a favor and read this book.