What a weird book! That’s possibly why I enjoyed it?! The Awakening of Miss Prim follows an independent and well-educated woman accepting a librarian position in a rural corner of France. Little does Miss Prim know what a strange place she is making her home. The strangeness began with her employer, The Man in the Armchair. She can’t understand his strange ways, study of dead languages, and how he teaches all the village children from ancient texts and dusty classics. She identifies with him, yet rejects his beliefs and outlook on life. She thinks she may love him, but can’t risk anything. She doesn’t understand the women of the village who enjoy their businesses AND keeping their homes. She doesn’t understand the shutting out of outside society and that it’s ok to live and just be close to home. She doesn’t understand the importance placed on enjoying the mundane in life. A good meal, tea by the fireside, hospitality, and reading quietly. She lacks understanding because she is so perfectly educated. You might say the life has been educated out of her…faith…goodness…beauty…everything has sort of drowned in all the accomplishments of her life. I had this vague irritation throughout and it came to me that Miss Prim was so self-focused and always frustrated that real life didn’t line up with what she believed was truth. I could empathise with her struggles, and yet my faith also compels a constant turning of my thoughts to my Lord and others. Miss Prim was too smart for religion or faith, and in fact, she is proud and disgusted by any semblance of faith. She sees it as a weakness. And yet…she is empty, searching, and lonely. I did feel for her in many ways and know I’ve battled her thoughts, questions. Even though her new little village is portrayed as some sort of utopia, she always is grasping at happiness. Lulu Thiberville, an older woman of the village, isn’t well received by Miss Prim, with her opinion of young women striving instead of living, wearing them down and destroying them…
“The yearning you all display to prove your worth, to show that you know this and that, to ensure that you can have it all. The yearning to succeed and, even more, the yearning not to fail; the yearning not to be seen as inferior, but instead even as superior, simply for being exactly what you believe you are or rather what you’ve been made to believe you are. The inexplicable yearning for the world to give you credit simply for being woman.”
As the story draws to a close, we see Miss Prim starting thaw just a bit. Looking at this book through the lens of my faith, I feel that Miss Prim is missing so much by rejecting faith and really, love. As she leaves this village for a trip to Italy (which I see as another way of just searching for something to fill her void), she does the thing she resisted doing the whole time of her stay in the village. She visits the local monastery and speaks with the old monk…he wishes her a good trip and says,
“So seek beauty, Miss Prim. Seek it in the silence, in tranquility; seek it in the middle of the night and at dawn. Pause to close doors while you seek it, and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t reside in museums or palaces. Don’t be surprised if, in the end, you find beauty to be not Something, but Someone.”
What is the picture the author was trying to paint here? I don’t know. A feminist, utopian, atheistic society is best? Or that faith is a weakness? Or that we can never be happy until we find ourselves, whatever that means?! Again, I’m not sure…remember this was a weird book. However, I walked away with a lot to chew on and different perspectives to consider. It made me care in a small way about Miss Prim and all the Miss Prim’s out there and even consider if I’ve been this way or am this way. Just flinging around, grasping, and floundering, instead of resting in my faith in the Lord Jesus. Life is a GIFT to be shared, given and savored, and I hope I never forget that truth.