Charming character-driven novel- 4 stars
Source- bought copy
Corsair Publishing- January 2012
Kindle edition- 273 pages
I have wanted to read this novel for ages, mainly drawn to it by the intriguingly long title (how can anyone resist it for long?!), but also seduced by the beautiful, eye-catching cover.
Set in 1920’s rural Wales, we are introduced to Wilfred Price, a young man who is the village undertaker and lives with his widowed grave-digger father, his beloved ‘Da.’ We first encounter Wilfred on a sunny afternoon when he is picnicking with Grace Reece, the daughter of the local doctor. Overcome by the emotions of the day and rather taken by the pretty yellow dress Grace is wearing, Wilfred impulsively proposes. He soon realises however, that he has made a mistake, though getting the message across to Grace and her family isn’t exactly easy…
This was a gorgeously written novel, full of subtle humour and some great dialogue. One can’t help feeling for Wilfred’s predicament and as the novel unfolds you get to know and empathise with both Wilfred and Grace and the situation they find themselves in, made all the more entertaining by the ‘proper’ attitudes of the times. Wilfred is keen to better develop his business and status in the community and can’t let anything jeopardise that, and Grace is just keen to escape, for reasons that slowly become clear. Wilfred also lives by the hallowed rules of the man he apprenticed to years before and is bound and determined that he will be the best undertaker he can possibly be. Though indeed charmingly written, there are also some rather poignant, unexpectedly deep moments in the book that are sure to resonate with the reader. The secondary characters too, are wonderfully drawn- from Grace’s bully of a father who later shows his softer side, to Wilfred’s father who was warm and big-hearted all around.
I was sure at first that this would be a definite 5-star rating as it was initially very engaging. I wanted to get to know Wilfred and Grace and what would happen with them and the pace of the novel seemed very gentle, which I appreciated and it seemed to mirror the 1920’s lifestyle and attitudes of the era. I suppose what prevented this five star rating was the lack of a ‘sense of place’ conveyed. Aside from some of the language used and a couple of minor references to food it didn’t feel particularly ‘Welsh’ in the way that I had anticipated- the story could have been based in any small, rural village anywhere within the UK. Though I sometimes enjoy an open ending, I also would have really liked to have discovered what happened with Grace. I think in some cases there was admittedly more style than substance in the narrative- it didn’t feel particularly ‘fleshed out’ on a lot of occasions, though undoubtedly the languid pace only added to its charm.
That aside, this was still a really charming read and an accomplished début from Wendy Jones with some sensitively handled dark secrets and some fantastic, quirky characters. I will definitely be buying her next novel as this was a real gem of a book.