Every year when we go on holiday, I scour my bookshelves for novels that have been lurking on there for a long time to read by the pool. The first book to go in the suitcase this year was The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals, a book that, I discovered, has been sitting there since 2012 ! I think I was put off by the wordy title which seemed pretentious, but having read the book, I now know that it is an affectionate parody of Wilfred Price himself, a dictionary-reading (or at least half of the A section !) undertaker from the small Welsh town of Narberth.
The book is set in the 1920's, when attitudes to courtship were still very Victorian - particularly in a small town like Narberth, where everyone knows everyone else's business. You may wonder how you could ask a woman to marry you by accident, but that is exactly what happens to Wilfred. In a moment of lust-fuelled madness, driven to distraction by an alluring yellow dress, he pops the question to Grace, instantly regretting it and wanting to extricate himself. He almost manages it, but Grace reveals that she is pregnant and Wilfred is forced to marry her immediately by her furious father and face up to his duty.
The act which is supposed to release Grace from one unbearable situation promptly throws both her and Wilfred into another one. Both of them must look deep into their hearts and souls to work out what is the fairest and most morally right destiny that they must choose to take.
It's a gentle, tenderly-written novel which gives a very good sense of life in rural Wales in the Edwardian/post-Victorian era. The mentions of young men lost in the Great War are made even more poignant when characters, in blissful ignorance, look forward to a happy future and we, as readers, know that another world war is unthinkably close. I started off feeling rather contemptuous of Wilfred for his rash actions and the hurt he caused, then my scorn switched to Grace, but ultimately I felt sorry for both of them, as they are both victims of their time. The ending is bitter-sweet but uplifting and I think it's probably the happiest ending that could be envisaged for all concerned. All the way through the book, I could hear Rob Brydon's lilting voice reading it in my head - if it's ever made into an audiobook or a film, he would be absolutely perfect as a narrator !
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £7.99