Prudencia Prim is a young woman of high ideals, intelligence and achievement, with an extensive knowledge of literature and several letters after her name. But when she accepts the post of private librarian to a wealthy bibliophile in the secluded village of San Ireneo de Arnois, she is unprepared for what she will encounter there. Her employer, a philosopher and intellectual, is dashing yet contrarian, always ready with a stinging critique of her beloved Austen and Alcott. And the neighbours are also capable of charm and eccentricity in equal measure, determined as they are to preserve their singular little community from the outside world.
The Awakening of Miss Prim
Sanmartin Fenollera, Natalia (2014). [Genre: literary fiction/woman's fiction]
Source: I recieved a copy of this book thanks to the Goodreads First Reads programme. All opinions are my own
The Awakening of Miss Prim is a delightful exploration of belief under the guise of typical woman’s fiction/romance. Or a delightful woman’s fiction/romance under the guise of a serious novel about belief. I can’t decide which and in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Miss Prim is a woman firm in her beliefs – feminism, the ‘delicacy’ of her own character, atheism, the need for Little Women in little girls lives. But when she finds herself working in a house full of (extremely and overly) philosophical children, for a man whose belief in something more powerful than himself is core to his very being, her unbending stance is challenged.
There were many things that I enjoyed about The Awakening of Miss Prim, but central was the theme of belief and the interpretation of ideals. Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera explores how common ideals can be interpreted in different ways, how belief can mean different things to different individuals and what makes up the core of who a human is. One of my favourite scenes is when Miss Prim attends a meeting of local feminists and is horrified to discover that the ‘feminists’ of San Idreno are all married and spend most of their time running around after their children or running small, ‘feminine’ businesses from their homes. She is even more horrified, and leaves, when she discovers that the meeting agenda includes finding husbands for the single women in the village. Over time though, her views on the nature of feminism are challenged as she discovers that all of these women have the freedom to set their own schedules and put their time into the pursuits that are important to them, while maintaining happy and equal marriages and often being the major breadwinner of the household – which is more than she, and the other city-working women that hold a ‘traditional’ interpretation of feminism, have managed to attain.
The relationship of Miss Prim with her employer (only referred to as ‘The Man in the Wingback Chair’) and the children he cares for was also a highlight. He is presented as a shadowy figure, who we never really feel like we get to know – yet his character is used to challenge Miss Prim’s belief that there is nothing beyond the human, as he demonstrates to her that it is possible to hold a deep faith without compromising academic rationality. The children of the story are a direct contrast, with vivid characters that shine throughout the novel. They ultimately give the same message as the man, but through the pure faith that comes from a child.
The only part of The Awakening of Miss Prim that I didn’t enjoy as much was the ending. Although I could appreciate its message, it felt rushed. I was expecting Miss Prim’s final ‘awakening’ to be as justified and well explored as every other aspect of the novel. Instead, it happened over a final chapter or two in a way that felt removed from the rest of the story – an afterthought. It’s unfortunate that such a thorough and delightful exploration of the nature of belief ended with such a hurried and unexplored awakening.
Overall? 4 out of 5 stars. A surprisingly philosophical treat, with romance thrown in for good measure.