I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
A timeless love story mimics nature – aspiring flowers, winding rivers, composting pasts. Debut novelist Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera captures the essence of plein air in The Awakening of Miss Prim. In the story, enlightenment and love are a vine that slowly curls around Miss Prim’s life. Miss Prudencia Prim possesses many academic degrees, but has yet to use any of them when she applies for the position of librarian for an eccentric gentleman in San Ireneo de Arnois.
San Ireneo offers the backstory and amplifies the philosophies of Miss Prim’s employer. The village is rural and tucked away from the clamor of modernity. Her employer, who she names “the Man in the Wingchair” for where she first met him, established San Ireneo in admiration of the “splendor of an ancient culture” and the “purity of old customs” minus any antediluvian inequalities between the sexes. The like-minded villagers hold fast to their principles of devotion to reading and study, participation in the education of the citizen’s children, and respect for each other’s contribution to the community. Life in San Ireneo is harmonious and a touch magical. Mystifying the paradise is a monk with an oracle’s touch who is the Man in the Wingchair’s spiritual guide.
Miss Prim arrives in the principled town with well-examined opinions about human interactions and development. Her naming of her employer exemplifies her desire to have everything named, organized, and most importantly proved. Yet, she came to San Ireneo to escape an unrest she attributes to modern life. The unrest becomes a central discussion between Miss Prim and the Man in the Wingchair. Branching from the unrest debate are deliberations of their distinct views on education, beauty, religion, marriage, and friendship. As often as the conversations tend toward flirtatious banter, they also lead to the characters frustration with each other. Miss Prim clutches her beliefs tightly. She refuses to allow her budding attraction to the Man in the Wingchair to influence her beliefs. Instead she begins a quest on her own to further validate her dogma and in her independence she defines her own sense of beauty and spirit, her awakening.
Educational philosophy ripples through the tale. Miss Prim’s education, formed by modern instructional principles, confronts the unconventional education of San Ireneo’s children. For instance, the town’s primary school teacher was selected for her mediocrity not her intellect because “many families in San Ireneo invested all their time and expertise – in some cases, very finely specialized – in personally seeing to their children’s education and giving classes to the children of others as well, an activity that provided great social prestige.” The Man in the Wingchair and the other villagers believe modern education fails to teach children to think and has “discarded the beauty of art and literature.” Author Fenollera touches on issues many parents battle today in regards to the lowest-common-denominator education being offered. Yet, as San Ireneo tilts toward a utopia, is the education proffered in The Awakening of Miss Prim realistic in today’s society?
The question of education is one of many raised in the story making The Awakening of Miss Prim an ideal book club read. Logos versus divinity, Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice compared to the Man in the Wingchair, homeschooling matched against public school are a few of the debates pulsing through the text. Not to mention two I’m still asking, is Miss Prim’s wakening spiritual or secular and are any houses for sale in San Ireneo?