Monday, 17 November 2014

Review: 'The Awakening of Miss Prim' by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, translated by Sonia Soto

The Awakening of Miss Prim: A NovelI requested this novel on Netgalley after there seemed to be some major buzz about it and it sounded like the kind of novel that would be perfect for me. And it really was.

When Miss Prim, an independent, accomplished young woman, reads an ad in the newspaper seeking a feminine spirit to work as a librarian in the lush countryside of France, she finds herself compelled to apply. Little does she know what kind of world she is about to step into.Miss Prim dutifully accepts the job and begins organizing her employer's vast library. A knowledgeable, mysterious gentleman with very specific opinions about life, he challenges Miss Prim's seemingly unshakeable disposition. And as she becomes familiar with the other townspeople, she begins to realize that the surprising lifestyle of the town awakens amazement, perplexity, and even disdain in her. For in this tiny corner of the world, a flourishing colony of exiles have settled into a simple, rural existence, living around great literature, intellectual discussions, family, and sweet indulgences. Their peculiar and unconventional ways slowly test Miss Prim's most intimate ideas and fears as well as her most profound convictions. She quickly comes to realize that her advanced degrees did little to prepare her for the lessons she's being taught the least of which is a lesson in love.
Set against a backdrop of steaming cups of tea, freshly baked cakes, warm fires, and lovely company, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a delightful, thought-provoking, and sensitive novel that gives rise to theories about love and companionship, education, and the beauty of every passing moment.
The idea behind this book was pretty brilliant in being both attractive and averse. When you think about retreating into the countryside with a group of similar minded people to create a village in which the old times are still adhered to. I really enjoyed how the reader was introduced to this village together with Miss Prim because the outsider-view is always more interesting. Added to that is the fact that Miss Prim isn't always a like-able figure, which means that the reader is, in some ways, stuck between two alternatives, almost two extremes. This leads to a lot of really interesting discussion within the novel and for the readers themselves. In some ways I myself would love to go back to what feels like a "more civilised time" in which everyone has their own occupation and is kind to each other. On the other hand, the constant presence of tea, hot chocolate and pastries feels almost too oppressive and the small-town atmosphere really started to weigh on me, since I'm used to and in love with big cities.The constant shifting between wanting to live there and wanting to return to "the real word" was very interesting.

I have already mentioned that Miss Prim isn't always likeable. This is a very good thing, I believe. You encounter this village and these people with her and as the reader them self awakens and starts to form his own thoughts on what is being taught and what is seen by her. I really liked the kind of realism Fenollera put into Miss Prim. She is very much a woman of this time, I think. She is educated, ambitious and constantly driven towards perfection and beauty. In some ways she is constantly trying to prove herself, not only to others but especially to herself. I could identify with Miss Prim in a lot of different ways and I think most women nowadays can as well. And because she is so like ourselves we are infuriated by some of her actions and thoughts. Everyone needs to be awakened and educated , especially about themselves, and here one of the real strengths of the novel lay. Although I think Fenollera skipped over some really interesting developments towards the end of the book, she generally allows the reader to be part of every of Miss Prim's thoughts.

Fenollera's writing style was great. I loved the way she mixed different influences, from English literature, to Augustine's theology, to philosophy, together in a way that seemed all hers. Although I definitely noticed the influences, such as Jane Austen who's wit I felt majorly influenced the novel, Fenollera made them her own and mixed them together in a way that worked. She makes the novel seem highly intellectual, which it definitely is to a certain extent, but in a way that is very accessible since the novel is an 'awakening' for Miss Prim. I am a major fan of intertextuality because I think it enriches everything. And spotting the references is a lot of fun. Sonia Soto does a great job in translating this novel from the original Spanish, which must have been quite a challenge. Her prose flows easily and creates some stunning pictures.

I give this novel...

4 Universes.

I really enjoyed The Awakening of Miss Prim, to the extent that I didn't want it to end. This is partially why I wished Fenollera would have extended some of the parts of the book a bit more. However, overall it is an incredibly enjoyable novel which will take you away to some beautiful places. In the end you will be wiser and hopefully a little bit more awakened.


  1. I definitely haven't heard of this one before and I'm not totally sure it's a book I'd love to read, but you definitely make it seem like something I SHOULD want to read! Haha! Miss Prim seems like an interesting character and I'm not quite sure about this town she goes to - it seems pretty vague in the description - so I am intrigued. Thanks for sharing!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

  2. I haven't heard of this novel before, and I don't think I will pick it up simply because it doesn't sound like it's something for me. I am not sure what I think of Mrs. Prim as a character. But I do like the sound of the setting being so unique in the countryside and how things are taken back to the old ways. It sounds like an intriguing concept!

    1. I think Miss Prim is the kind of character you're not supposed to be too sure of! Concept-wise it's definitely intriguing so I'd recommend giving it a try ;)
      Thanks for commenting!