REVIEW by Ffion Lindsay

30/04/2012

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals

by Wendy Jones

Set in 1920s Narberth, The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals tells the story of Wilfred Price, a young undertaker who makes the foolish mistake of asking a woman he does not love to marry him. What appears at first to be a straightforward tale of romantic mishap quickly becomes a dark and complex story of love, duty and secrecy. Wilfred finds himself caught between his sense of loyalty to Grace, the fiancé he does not want to marry, and his desire for the mysterious Flora, forcing him to confront his fears and take control of his own life.

Wilfred himself is a very likeable character. He is kind-hearted and naïve in a manner both frustrating and endearing at once. His desire to keep himself and his father away from the poverty of his own youth leads him to devise whimsical schemes for improving his undertaking business, including turning his front parlour into a wall-paper shop. The moment in which it is pointed out to him that Welsh walls are simply too bumpy for fine wallpaper is grimly comical, but we are never laughing at his expense. Seeing Flora described as Wilfred sees her, it would be easy for her to be cast as the all-perfect girlfriend, but she too is given the same level of complexity and history as Wilfred, with her own private struggles to resolve. Even the conniving Grace, who would rather entrap a man for whom she feels no love rather than face the consequences, is treated with gentleness. Despite depicting some very difficult subject matter, Jones avoids sensationalism and passes no judgement on her characters. However, the quiet social commentary and simplicity of language in this novel did not deflect from a story in which I found myself deeply emotionally involved.

At times I felt that The Thoughts and Happenings… leant a little too heavily on the traditions of Dylan Thomas, especially in its quirky narrative style and descriptions of parochial village life. At certain points it seems to narrowly avoid that fine line between charming and mawkish. The parts that feel a little clichéd, such as the depiction of the relationship between Wilfred and his father after the death of his mother, avoid sentimentality only through the quality of the writing. Also, it’s possible that some readers might be annoyed with the minor misuses of Welsh in the novel, for example the misspelt bora da as a greeting and ‘Myffanwy’ with a double ‘f’.

In some ways I found the ending a little unsatisfying, but I suspect that this was born out of my desire to see everything neatly wrapped up. In a book that begins so whimsically and resolves so compellingly, the reader is left wanting a happy ending for every character. But if this novel tells us anything, it is that things are never straightforward when it comes to love, and the story is all the more powerful for it.
This is a book that will linger in your mind long after you have finished reading it.

If you want a purely historical portrayal of 1920s Welsh village life, this isn’t it. If you want a light-hearted romance caper, it isn’t that either. But if you want a slow-burning, dark tale of love and loyalties then I highly recommend it.


Buy this book at gwales.com



       


previous review: Swamplandia
next review: Funderland



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