In which a Style Like Jane Austen’s Is Attempted, Things Happen Gradually, and Some Readers Are Pleased While Others Are Not

The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel, by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, (Simon and Schuster), 272 pages

When I requested an electronic ARC for Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera’s The Awakening of Miss Prim, I knew I was taking a chance. This is a “quaint” novel, one that idealizes a vague past, when things purportedly were better for everyone. Education wasn’t watered down by modern educational theory, people spoke their minds clearly and without rancor, and genuine debate thrived. People also fell in love gradually, with minds, then hearts, and physical love was left for much later.

Sometimes I find such conceits charming, at other times they seem cloying. If you visit the Goodreads page for this book, you’ll see that the responses to it are very mixed, suggesting that The Awakening of Miss Prim is a book you’ll need to look at for yourself—not one that you can buy or skip based on reviews.

To sum this book up succinctly, Miss Prim decides on a whim to apply for a rather unusual private librarian’s position: the applicant should be good with children and dogs and have no qualifications whatsoever. Miss Prim actually has quite a few qualifications, including multiple advanced degrees, but she nonetheless manages to land the position and moves to the village where her employer lives. This is a village composed of individuals who feel alienated by modern life and who are attempting to create a gentler, more intelligent world by looking to the past. Miss Prim arrives here, is first nonplussed, then increasingly attracted by life in the village.

That’s pretty much it. The prose has a sparkle to it, but the reader’s response will be shaped primarily by her patience with gradual unfoldings of minor events. The author is attempting a modern-day sort of Pride and Prejudice, with mixed results—mixed not because they’re uneven, but because different readers respond to the narrative in such different ways.

I didn’t love this book, but this doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same. The next time you’re at your local independent bookstore, pick up a copy, read a few pages. You’ll quickly be able to decide for yourself whether you’ll be delighted or disinterested.