Sunday, January 08, 2017

Look! It's The Man in the Yellow Hat, I mean The Man in the Wing Chair!

Here is my review of the book The Awakening of Miss Prim...

I did not read the entire book. I read the first 6 chapters and the last 2 chapters.

I was disappointed with the book on all levels. The publisher's synopsis of it is pasted below. My review follows.

"A young woman leaves everything behind to work as a librarian in a remote French village, where she finds her outlook on life and love challenged in every way."

"Prudencia Prim is a young woman of intelligence and achievement, with a deep knowledge of literature and several letters after her name. But when she accepts the post of private librarian in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, she is unprepared for what she encounters there. Her employer, a book-loving intellectual, is dashing yet contrarian, always ready with a critique of her cherished Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. The neighbors, too, are capable of charm and eccentricity in equal measure, determined as they are to preserve their singular little community from the modern world outside."

"Prudencia hoped for friendship in San Ireneo but she didn't suspect that she might find love—nor that the course of her new life would run quite so rocky or would offer challenge and heartache as well as joy, discovery, and fireside debate. Set against a backdrop of steaming cups of tea, freshly baked cakes, and lovely company, The Awakening of Miss Prim is a distinctive and delightfully entertaining tale of literature, philosophy, and the search for happiness."--end synopsis.

What was challenging was getting over the main character's personality. I understand the author wanted to portray a character initially buttoned up and locked down but that due to her move to the idyllic village of San Ireneo she was awakened to beauty and truth by memorably drawn characters and the gently elicited desires of her own heart, unknown to her but wisely seen and kindly shepherded by a man whose patience never dwindles and whose intellect is second only to God's... sigh. If that was the author's goal, it failed. The main character was not someone I'd ever want to spend time with in real life, a drastic mistake for an author to make.

The time was set in modern day but the village was portrayed as a haven for cultural elites, wealthy enough to forego ties to the outside world, and to live according to commonly shared and dearly held precepts, such as a love of literature, honesty, truth, and harmony. Utopia, in other words. Fine, but does the main character have to be such a pill? I never warmed up to her. She was condescending, dour, and haughty.

The other characters were obviously staged as cobblestones to aid her in the supposed road to a great awakening, sadly they were not developed as characters on their own merits. A deft author uses secondary characters to both propel the storyline and remain vivid in the reader's imagination in and of themselves. Deft is not something I'd call Fenollera's writing. The awakening does not occur in the book but is only alluded to in a passage of time that is never described. Clumsily staged conversations during in Miss Prim's heart-journey were not all that cultural or intellectual, but stilted and ponderous. The entire book was pedantic. I gave up on it halfway through.

This book was originally written in Spanish, so I do not know how much was lost in the translation, but the author spent much time telling, not showing. This is her first book, and it's a rookie mistake that should have been corrected by a diligent editor. As an example, "I shall never do that, she reflected wisely..." Don't TELL me she is reflecting wisely, SHOW me her wisdom through her actions. I found the writing to be on a high school level.

I never could overcome the author's conceit of never naming the hero-protagonist, who is only ever called 'The Man in the Wing Chair'. This rendered the dialog jarring and resulted in catapulting the reader right out of the imaginary utopia, another rookie mistake. Moreover, this relationship between The Man in the Yellow Hat oops The Man in the Wing Chair and Prudencia Prim had shades of grey rather than one that was romantic, collegial, or even paternal. Any of those would have been better than the trope of the naive ingenue recoiling in confusion from being steered by an older, wiser man.

If you want elevated conversation, watch My Dinner with Andre. If you want to read a similar book whose execution of the themes of a woman awakened to truth and beauty are deftly handled, read EM Forster's A Room With a View.

1 comment:

Grace to You said...

Thanks for the recommendation of Room with a View...I've been meaning to read it.

Now for my recommendation in return: a man at our church gave me a book from the church library this morning called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23...he said it is excellent. I trust him and look forward to reading the book this week. If it's not good I'll let you know. :)