San Ireneo de Arnois is a tiny village with one foot placed firmly in a bygone era – a welcome change from the modern vicissitudes of a big city life, where courtesy, community, and well-being matter much more than material gain. It’s charm lies in lush land, locally sourced produce, high quality boutiques and a graceful dedication to simplicity. A warm, welcoming town that fills you with longing and nurtures the heart with pitchers of hot chocolate, tea and chocolate cake. San Ireneo honors old world values; doors aren’t locked, children are schooled by its intelligent community, Intellectual debates and inclusiveness are highly valued over modern thrills and frills.
Pruencia Prim is independent, highly educated and opinionated. She is every bit certain that she is more than qualified for a job that does not require a degree – Miss Prim has three. She answers an advertisement with the competence of one who is un-fussed about children and dogs, confident and secure in the knowledge that cataloging an extensive private collection of books is a task perfectly made for her. The library is every bibliophile’s dream. Her slightly unusual, yet attractive employer not so much. Or so it seems.
The Man in the Wing Chair as Miss Prim names her employer, carries his weight in the story beautifully. He is part of Prudencia’s challenge. They match wits on a daily basis. She thinks she loses each time, he enjoys their verbal sparring. Prudencia however, is not ready for San Ireneo and its frank singular minded, advice giving community. She would like to embrace its simplicity, but is a contradiction herself. She is uncomfortable around emotion, finds the village claustrophobic, its inclusiveness intrusive, and her employer exasperating. They lock horns over computers; he would rather she didn’t use one, she would like to make her job simpler. He makes fun of literary greats: Jane Austen & Louisa M. Alcott, yet their story is strongly reminiscent of an Austen classic. Prudencia can’t quite understand his devotion to theology or the old man at the abbey- whom I found fascinating. She is shocked that he is an expert in dead languages – not just Greek and Latin, but twenty others. And then, there are the children. Their ability to quote Homer and Virgil is yet another challenge to Prudencia’s perception of the world; She is thrown by a ten-year old who paints ‘Rublev’s icon'( The Holy Trinity) from memory, talks about icons and windows as an adult would, and offers strange insights into the mysteries of life. They talk gleefully about an art trip to Moscow’s Tretyakov gallery, rhyming poetry with Robert Louis Stevenson and when each child shows a depth of knowledge far beyond their young age, Prudencia wants to flee. The book becomes really fun at this point. The supporting cast is tremendously entertaining. Hortensia and Horace are my favorites; they are Prudencia’s allies in this journey.
Her conversations with ‘The man in the wing chair’ frustrate, stimulate and challenge the story at every turn. Therein lies the heart of the book. Their dueling is like a finely choreographed dance, except it has flaws. He likes her, that much is clear. Yet he is emotionally unavailable, wry and they are mere novices in matters of the heart. As to where it will lead, that is up to the reader. One of my favorite lines: Tutti li miei penser parlan d Amore – Dante. Translated to: Everyone of my thoughts speaks of love, gently brings the book to an end. As the book asks questions lightly veiled in mirth, none of the answers are found as easily as we think. Although upon learning about acceptance and a gently closing door, San Ireneo de Arnois will change you and flood your heart with light.
This is a lovely book for lovers of literature, philosophy, theology and those who enjoy a modern day intellectual romance.
Book – The Awakening of Miss Prim By Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera (writer’s own)
- Paperback, 258 pages
- Published by Atria Paperback – A Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.
- First Edition, 2014
- English Language Translation by Sonia Soto
- ISBN 978-1-4767-3424-8