“’My dear Miss Prim,’ he’d said, ‘you may use all the labels you wish, of course you may. All I ask is that you don’t use the kind that glow in the dark. I don’t have anything against coloured labels, nothing at all, but I don’t think the sermons of St Bonaventure should be catalogued in lime green, or the works of Virgil in fluorescent pink.’”
I expected Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera’s The Awakening of Miss Prim to be a light, fun read of a book-loving woman falling in love with her eccentric employer. I didn’t expect it to contain deeper thoughts on education, marriage, and faith, or to be, in essence, a conversion story.
When Prudencia Prim takes a job as private librarian to a gentleman in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, she is unaware that she has taken the first step in turning her life upside down. An intelligent, orderly woman, a lover of beauty and of what she terms “delicacy”, Miss Prim likes to think she was “born at the wrong time and in the wrong place”.
She tells her employer, The Man in the Wingchair, after she has been in San Ireneo for a while, “’I used to think I possessed a sensibility from another century. I was convinced I’d been born at the wrong time and that that was why vulgarity, ugliness, lack of delicacy all bothered me so much. I thought I was longing for a beauty that no longer existed, from an era that one fine day bade us farewell and disappeared.’
‘Now I’m working for someone who effectively lives immersed in another century, and it’s made me realise that that was not what my problem was.’”
Miss Prim’s real problem, as the book makes clear, is her modern, secular mindset. With a premise like that, one would be forgiven for thinking that The Awakening of Miss Prim was an example of the mediocre kind of modern Christian fiction, rather than something that is, in fact, published in the mainstream market. To its credit, however, its spiritual elements feel integral to the story rather than being forced or garish.
Overall, the quality of writing was good, although I felt that the story sometimes lacked internal coherence, and I would have made some changes to the conclusion. That being said, Miss Prim was a fun, absorbing read, and satisfying too because of its serious treatment of things that matter.
In an interview with Foyles, Fenollera said the following:
“I wanted to write about two very different manners of seeing the world – from the viewpoints of tradition and modernity – and about the adventure entailed in asking oneself questions and looking for answers, searching for searching for [sic] truth, goodness and beauty.”
I think she did a good job of that, and I’d recommend The Awakening of Miss Prim as a delightful and enriching read. I’ll let The Man in the Wingchair have the final word (as he so likes doing):
“’Dostoyevsky, Prudencia? Dostoyevsky? If I were you, I’d start worrying.’”