Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

I love books about books and libraries and bibliophiles. I love clever books that make allusions to famous works and that have echoes of the classics weaving through the plot. So The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera should have been an easy book for me to love. But it wasn't. It somehow completely missed the mark for me.

Prudencia Prim is a smart young woman with many degrees to her name. She decides to apply for a position she's certain she's perfect for as a private librarian in a small French village, never mind that the ad for the job specifically asks for someone without any degrees. It turns out the position is for an eccentric gentleman she calls The Man in the Wing Chair, who has firm and unconventional ideas about the education of his nieces and nephews and enjoys intellectual sparring with his new librarian. Miss Prim quickly discovers that the quirky folk who live in San Ireneo de Arnois have consciously chosen to create a tightly knit village based on old-fashioned courtly manners, having all escaped from the noise and congestion and hurry of cities all over. They are a community of intellectuals who appear to be wholly happy with the village they've created entirely from their shared mores and philosophies.

Miss Prim does not believe quite the same thing that they all do and so she must come to understand the superiority of their ideas and way of life, hence the awakening of the title. She and The Man in the Wing Chair banter back and forth constantly, arguing theory of education and philosophy and conventional ideas. And somehow, Miss Prim always loses their discussions, causing her to start to question what she understands of the world. Their discussions can verge on arguments and The Man in the Wing Chair is always the one dispensing wisdom to the misguided Miss Prim. He challenges her long and closely-held beliefs on just about every topic she raises. This could come across as flirtatious challenging but instead the Man in the Wing Chair comes across as unbending and set in his beliefs and Miss Prim lives up to her name being rather prickly and a tad insufferable.

The secondary characters in the novel are not very well fleshed out, indistinct from each other, making it difficult for the reader to remember which is which. Each is courteous and welcoming and interested in Miss Prim's business but they themselves stay remote for the reader. The eventual love story is unconvincing, feeling as if it was tacked on simply because it was a plot element important in the books to which Fenollera seems to be trying to pay homage. The writing was well done but the biggest problem was the fact that it was difficult to care about the characters, the plot, or really anything in the story. It could have been pretentious with all of the classical references and philosophy but it escaped that for the most part. Instead, it was a bit boring. And that, given the very promising premise, was incredibly disappointing.

1 comment:

I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

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