Thursday 22 May 2014

The Awakening of Miss Prim - Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

This is rather lovely. In fact given the rather unsympathetic character that is the titular Miss Prim it is maybe surprising just how lovely this actually is. It seems to be one of the stream of books about book lovers that seem to be coming out with increasing frequency right now, maybe because both writers and publishers think that bibliophiles are the only ones actually purchasing books beyond the Christmas rush these days? Who knows? Whatever may be the case there certainly have been a spate of these books based in and around libraries and bookshops, and so far the ones I have read have been all quite lovely; this is no exception.
Miss Prudencia is an extremely well qualified and rather uptight young woman who answers an advert for a position as a librarian at the private library of a man who is essentially the squire and founder of the community of intellectuals and eccentrics that is San Ireneo. Despite being supremely over qualified for the position she is accepted for the post and finds herself having to adapt to the unconventional, but rather wonderful, family life of her new home. Miss Prim is a rather prickly individual, she has firm views and opinions which she tries her hardest to live up to, and she expects those around her to live up to these standards as well. It is only through accepting that it is acceptable to want and need others that she starts to soften, relaxing her purely rational approach to life and love.
In many ways this novel reads very much like one of the great Victorian novels that Miss Prim so adores. Obviously the plot is rather similar in several respects; Miss Prim is entering the house of landed gentry in one of those awkward 'not quite family, not quite staff' roles such as librarian or governess. Like one of Gaskell's or Bronte's heroines she engages in spiky slightly confrontational conversations with her employer; conversations where the most interesting thing is how long both of them can avoid saying what they really feel or think. Ultimately it is the softening and acceptance that grows within the novel and within Miss Prim that makes this such an endearing read. Gentle, thought provoking and really one of those books that you will think about for a long while.

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