From its cover and its blurb, The Awakening of Miss Prim looks like a quaint little novel about a woman who finds love in a small village called San Ireneo.
Yet once you start reading you soon realise it’s about so much more than that – feminism, the arguments for and against formal education, the benefits or not of marriage and more all crop up as discussion points.
Prudencia Prim responds to an advert in a paper for a private librarian. Despite being overqualified, she lands the job and soon finds herself sorting the vast library of the Man in the Wingchair, who spends his time teaching the children of the village about great literature and art and ideas.
As Miss Prim becomes a part of the village she finds herself making friends with an extraordinary group of people, and finds her core ideas and beliefs challenged.
The Awakening of Miss Prim is a difficult novel to describe, because whatever I think of to describe the characters or settings or plot is not quite right.
Its setting is sort of a Stepford-like village, but not in a creepy way (see, already running into trouble). Instead, its population have come together and created an idyll according to their desires and beliefs. The characters in The Awakening of Miss Prim are quirky, but not unusual. Rather, they live the lives they want and do so peacefully, detached in some ways from the rest of the world, but not to their detriment. And the plot is more of a discussion of ideas rather than a beginning to a middle to an end, although Miss Prim does most definitely go on a journey.
The Awakening of Miss Prim is an unusual tale, which left me sometimes sharing the opinion of Miss Prim and sometimes sharing the opinions of those around her (without spoiling it, let’s just say that the inhabitants of San Ireneo have some strange ideas that sort of make sense once you think about them), and sometimes just wondering what on earth was happening. I did find it a little confusing at times, and I’m not sure I liked the way the Man in the Wingchair was referred to throughout as the Man in the Wingchair – it felt a little jarring after a while once we got to know him. But I absolutely adored the ending and found the book a really stimulating read.
Yes, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a charming and quaint love story, but it’s also a book that will make you think and question what you think you know and why you hold the beliefs you do on some issues, and make you wish that San Ireneo was a real place.
•The Awakening of Miss Prim is released on June 5 2014.
How I got this book: From the publisher, Abacus. This did not affect my review.