Everyone has to make decisions about love. Wilfred Price, overcome with emotion on a sunny spring day, proposes to a girl he barely knows at a picnic. The girl, Grace, joyfully accepts and rushes to tell her family of Wilfred’s intentions. But by this time Wilfred has realised his mistake. He does not love Grace. On the verge of extricating himself, Wilfred’s situation suddenly becomes more serious when Grace’s father steps in.
Up until this point in his life, Wilfred’s existence has been blissfully simple, and the young undertaker seems unable to stop the swirling mess that now surrounds him. To add to Wilfred’s emotional turmoil, he thinks he may just have met the perfect girl for him. As Wilfred struggles in an increasingly tangled web of expectation and duty, love and lies, Grace reveals a long-held secret that changes everything…
Wendy Jones’s charming first novel is a moving depiction of love and secrecy, set against the rural backdrop of a 1920s Welsh village, and beautifully told.
Wilfred Jones proposes to a girl wearing a lovely yellow dress at a picnic, one beautiful day. Overcome by the moment, instead of asking what is on his mind: “How do you get out of your dress?” He instead blurts out “Will you marry me?”. Grace says yes, and Wilfred finds himself in something of a pickle.
So far so whimsical sounding right? Well, yes and no. This is certainly a charming novel, full of well drawn characters. There are comical elements, such as Wilfred’s decision to purchase and read through a dictionary in order to improve himself. As he tries to extricate himself from his unwanted engagement, after meeting the woman of his dreams at her father’s funeral, the scene seems set for a comedy of errors. Underneath this, however lies a tragic story, as we discover why it is that Grace said yes with such haste to a funeral director she doesn’t really know.
The backdrop to the story is the small Welsh town of Narberth, after the Great War, and this infuses parts of the story with a real sense of poignancy, as Flora, Wilfred’s new love interest, looks to move on from the loss of her sweetheart killed in the war, alongside grieving for her father.
I thought I had Wilfred all figured out, as he proposed and quickly tries to wriggle out of it: “Oh, you tool,” I thought to myself, but actually Jones surprised me by creating a character I really warmed to, felt sorry for, and wanted to be OK. As he realises exactly what he has become involved in, he really starts to shine. The best character for me though, is his Da, who became a grave digger to stay connected to his departed wife, and whose quiet and accepting love and consolation made me want to reach through the pages and give him a hug.
I expected to enjoy this story as a light read, and in some ways it is that: A fairly short, charming, and readable novel. Jones has a lovely turn of phrase and, I thought some of the scenes in the cottage with Wilfred and Flora were beautiful. But this novel goes deeper than that, not only in Grace’s story, but I really felt touched by the lives of the people of Narberth and as the darker side of the story began to become apparent, I desperately wanted it all to work out for all of them. A novel of unexpected depth; a bittersweet beauty. Read it!
Thanks to Emily at Constable and Robinson for sending me this book to review.