Last Saturday I had an official pyjama day – a whole day to doze, dream and devour books. I set myself up early with – pots of tea, the pile of books by the bed,the appropriate reading music (instrumental – no distracting lyrics allowed). Twelve books to be selected from, only one to be chosen. All to be published in the first few months of 2012.
And so I started with a vaguely scientific method in mind. Skim the first few pages of each book. Select the one to read in full that seemed the most promising. Revel in the quiet, quirky offerings for the first quarter of the year, novels that would almost certainly be shouted down in the noise that is Christmas.
From the minute I met him, I was hooked. Wilfred is perfect – he is Welsh, neat and trim, full of entrepreneurial ideas both for his business as a purveyor of superior funerals, and for his side line (from the front room) of hosting a wallpaper showroom. He is just as handy at knocking up a coffin out the back as he is instructing his underlings on the correct etiquette for addressing the bereaved. He reads a dictionary daily to improve his general knowledge. And he knows that for his business to prosper, he has to take a wife.
Now, finding a wife in the early 20s in a small sea side town in Wales shouldn’t prove too difficult. After all, nearly a whole generation of young men haven’t returned from the trenches. But Wilfred – earnest, deliberate, dutiful and positive Wilfred – is completely inexperienced and extraordinarily naive. And then he meets Grace…
For the early part, The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals is definitely in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie genre of fiction. It certainly has the same kind of charm. It does a good line in the eccentric nature of the small, isolated village struggling to deal with a devastating world event. The Welsh Tourist Bureau could definitely adopt Wilfred as a quaint front man for a campaign to promote visitors in seaside settlements of bygone eras.
To dismiss it as simply charming however would be to do the novel a great disservice.
Wendy Jones has written a surprisingly restrained and moving book. There are secrets which aren’t pretty, there are shocks without sensationalism. This is a novel about duty, love, loss and responsibility and it deserves a very wide audience. An added bonus is that it comes as a lovely demi-hardback edition. As I said, Wilfred is just about perfect.