Are you sitting comfortably? Then Victoria King is ready to tell you why Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera’s bestseller is more than just a modern romance.
When the independent and educated Prudencia Prim applies for the role of private librarian in the remote village of San Ireneo de Arnois in the French countryside, she is unprepared for the challenges ahead.
San Ireneo de Arnois is a community of exiles who want a simple life filled with literature and education. Prudencia wants to move from the big city, the inner noise she calls it, but finds her beliefs and ideas are challenged as never before in the sleepy rural hamlet.
She organises and catalogues the vast library of her new employer, an erudite but blunt gentleman. During their intense discussions on literature, he criticises her love of Jane Austen and she retaliates with passion. He riles and awakens her and she begins to have feelings she finds difficult to handle.
Their relationship reminded me of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, with the tension between Jane and Mr Rochester, based upon intellectual chemistry and respect, playing out between Prudencia and The Man in the Wingchair, as he is known throughout.
“San Ireneo de Arnois is the sort of place you go on holiday to remember the little things in life, which become the most important no matter how peculiar they seem in the modern world.”
Prudencia becomes acquainted with the unconventional way of life within the village. The children are home-schooled and the Women’s Feminist League is a formidable group that manages everything from working hours to the trade within the village, all decided over homemade sweet treats and hot chocolate.
At one meeting they are enlisted to help Prudencia find a husband within the village, not realising she is sat among them. Determining this an affront to her independence, Prudencia storms out of the meeting.
The women believe for every woman there is a list of potential husbands from the men they already know. Though I found this irritating, the notion that the person we are bound to be with is there all the time is often quite true. I felt this was simply a more organised way of moving life along and admired the women for their pragmatic rather than romantic approach.
Try writing your own list – it’s quite unnerving.
When an estranged husband returns to the village the women draft a plan to make him a permanent resident by supporting him in starting a newsagent, as the village does not have one. Their intention to assist everyone to have a job, a business and to be able to support their family is a noble one and Prudencia begins to appreciate their simple ways.
The more I read, the more I felt this is a place I’d like to visit. San Ireneo de Arnois is a magical place with a foot in the past, retaining all the gems of community, education and conversation but still feeling modern in its ability to ensure everyone is included and cherished.
I loved this book and finished it in two sittings. It challenged my preconceptions about modern life and it made me think about what we are losing: conversation, community and caring for others. I adored the idea that all issues could be solved with intelligent conversation, pastries and hot chocolate.
San Ireneo de Arnois is the sort of place you go on holiday to remember the little things in life, which become the most important no matter how peculiar they seem in the modern world.
If you want an uplifting, charming, all-absorbing book that makes you pick up the telephone to a friend to have a conversation, this one is for you. Maybe make that phone call first, though. Just because.
Next time I will be reading The Children Act by Ian McEwan.
The Awakening of Miss Prim is published by Abacus.2111 Views
Victoria is working on her first book. She is also a flag-waving survivor of Crohn’s Disease. And she loves a Mr Whippy.