Book review: The Awakening of Miss Prim

Natalia Sanmartin FenolleraThe title gives away the storyline of this charming tale by Spanish journalist Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera [below]. Miss Prim is to be awakened. The assumption is that the catalyst for this awakening is love. But that is to over-simplify a thoughtful tale of self-knowledge, or maturing as an adult, about making the leap from intellectual maturity to emotional maturity.

Prudencia Prim is a librarian who begins a new job in a private house in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, in an un-named country. Even when I had finished the book I was still unclear in which country it is set, though this does not affect the storytelling at all. Miss Prim is to catalogue the private library of a man who is never named, but is known simply as The Man in the Wingchair.

Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

[photo: El Pais]

San Ireneo is an unusual village, it feels as if you are taking a step back in time. “That morning she urgently needed to buy notebooks and labels. The day before, she had had a small disagreement with her employer, the fifth since her arrival at the house. He’d come into the library and declared that he didn’t want her to use a computer to catalogue the books.” So, a computer, it is a contemporary tale then.

The discussions beside the fireplace between Miss Prim and The Man in the Wingchair range widely, from literature and philosophy to the quality of life in the village. And the neighbours, who all have wonderfully exotic names such as Herminia and Hortensia. The women seem to run the village, and have formed a club to support each other and they tackle problems together. Their meetings are always characterised by cake, tea and toast. Miss Prim finds this inclusiveness difficult to handle, she resents interference and in the beginning finds the atmosphere claustrophobic. She is an independent, well-qualified young woman, who knows her own mind. She does not need anyone else and is not looking for love. Of course not!

This is a delightful tale which ranges from classical literature to art to the philosophy of education. One of my favourite scenes is when Miss Prim takes The Man in the Wingchair to task for not including Little Women in his library, lamenting the loss of his nieces in not being able to read the story of the Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.

To watch the book trailer on You Tube, click here. The trailer is in Spanish, by the book’s Spanish publisher Planeta, but please watch it as the film is charming.

If you like this, try:-
‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent
‘The Knife with the Ivory Handle’ by Cynthia Bruchman
‘The Art of Baking Blind’ by Sarah Vaughan

‘The Awakening of Miss Prim’ by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, trans. Sonia Soto [UK: Little, Brown] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE AWAKENING OF MISS PRIM by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera #bookreview via @SandraDanby


  1. The Spanish version is now on my TBR list. Thank you for sharing this remarkable book and your review, Sandra.