The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones book cover
The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals (2012) is a charming little book about love and life in 1920s rural Wales. When Wilfred Price, in a moment of haste and ill-judgement, proposes to Grace Reece on only their second date, he sets in motion a chain of events that seem far beyond his control. With no long-lasting desire to wed Grace, and give up the happy life he leads with his Da, Wilfred tries to extricate himself from the marriage contract without ruining his reputation and his business as the local undertaker. When he meets Flora, who's recently deceased father Wilfred has just buried, things get a lot more complicated and one thing’s for sure: no matter what happens, the small town of Narberth will be alive with gossip for years to come!

Wilfred is quite the progressive in his small town, with dreams of one day converting his front room into a wallpaper shop and, with the words of his funeral mentor, Mr Auden, ringing constantly in his ears, Wilfred studies a specially purchased dictionary everyday in order to improve his vocabulary, whilst working hard to provide the most efficient, compassionate funeral service to the people of Narberth. Although on the first inspection the book appears to be a gentle and light-hearted piece, there is a darkness and a harsh reality concealed within its pages. There is a sense of pathos about the young characters, with a feeling that their lives are not their own; claimed by their parents, their community, or even their country (for the purposes of fighting in the army). Jones draws this idea out subtly, but effectively, with all the young people touched by it in one way or another. As Wilfred buries those who have lived their lives, the idea that he is about to embark upon the commitments that will set his own life course is a poignant one. The simplicity of the story belies the deep resonance it should have for the reader, with the characters' dilemmas, and the themes, universal.

The writing beautifully draws the quiet, proud approach that Narberth's population take to relationships, with emotions remaining unspoken, and love expressed by small gestures, not overblown statements. Parts of the book are very humourous, whether it be the remembered wisdoms of Mr Auden and Wilfred's attempts to put them into practice, or the humour that comes from the disparity between internal and external communication. The characters are all sensitively drawn, although some appear a little flat – notably Flora – who is given very little room of her own.

Wilfred is a hugely likeable character; warm, confused, and still finding his place in the world, but with a good heart. If one was to make a criticism it would be that the novel feels slightly too neat, too well-constructed. It has the feeling of a piece of writing constructed upon the principles of writing good fiction, rather than as an expression of the author's own personal style. However, this is a fine, touching d├ębut from Jones, which manages to be delightful and poignant at the same time. With a relative lack of complexity, it still engages one’s interest throughout its short tale.

This is a charming little book, full of small town characters, who feel perfectly observed. The story  itself draws you into Wilfred's world, and you really feel part of Narberth.

Useful Links
Reviews of The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price on Amazon (UK)

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