The World is a Wedding by Wendy Jones is the follow-up to her first novel, ‘The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals’ and picks up where that first book ends. I’ve not read the first book but I didn’t feel I was missing out or failing to follow the plot by not having previously ‘met’ Wifred and his ex-wife Grace.
The book is set in Narberth, Wales and in central London and the year is 1925. When the book begins, Wilfred is thinking about what an extraordinarily lucky fellow he is to have a good business, to have just married his sweetheart Flora Myfanwy and to have had a second chance after divorcing Grace. It will be some time before readers will get the full low-down on what went wrong with their marriage, and I’m not sure how much of Grace’s trials were revealed in the first book. Wilfred and Grace never consummated their marriage and Wilfred is so full of the wonder of ‘relations’ with the beautiful Flora Myfanwy, that he has to take extreme mental precautions to avoid becoming overly excited when in bed with her. Normally he thinks about Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin as a method of delaying the inevitable and trying to please his new wife more. Poor Flora Myfanwy just wonders why Wilfred never seems to quite have his mind on the job. There seemed to be something rather incongruous about having quite such detail of Wilfred’s ‘delaying tactics’ when the rest of the book was rather twee and dainty in its scope.
Meanwhile, whilst Wilfred is starting over with his new wife in small town west Wales, Grace is starting over in London, finding a job as a chambermaid at the Ritz hotel. Grace has a secret that she won’t be able to hide forever and even when her problem becomes apparent, the cause will remain a mystery to those around her. Grace falls in with a group of Suffragettes after being invited to a meeting by a client at the hotel, Lady Penelope Lytton, who is drawn to Grace because she reminds her of her sister. Grace can’t see the point of votes for women, surely that’s only something relevant to the wealthy women and not to people like her but she stands to benefit from their encouragement of empowerment in the wider sense. Watching the women doing their ‘jujutsu’ training, Grace comes to realise that if she’d been more able to look after herself, she’d not be in a half the mess she now is.
In order to give Grace a chance to escape her failed marriage, Wilfred gave her half his savings. Soon after his marriage, Flora Myfanwy falls pregnant and Wilfred is burdened by the fear of not being able to provide adequately for her and their child. He decides that his funeral business is limited by the number of people dying in the town, and he needs an additional income. With no particular talent or experience, he opens a paint and wallpaper business.
Flora Myfanwy has tragedies of her own. There was her sweetheart Albert who died in the war and more recently the death of her father who had a heart attack. Wilfred isn’t the great romantic love of her life – that role will always be with Albert – but she’s ready to start over in a new town, with new neighbours and a new role as the wife of a respected local businessman.
There are lots of different small stories running through the book. There’s Flora Myfanwy’s attempt to help a downtrodden local woman whose husband beats her regularly. There’s Wilfred’s attempt to remove a man’s body under cover of darkness because the family don’t want their neighbours to know that he died (and got rigor mortis) on the toilet. Flora’s attempts to clean up the house she shares with Wilfred and his father start out touching and sweet but soon become a displacement activity for the life she really wants but has had stolen from her.
This is a time of miscarriages and unwanted babies, of people making the most of their lot in the aftermath of the Great War and accepting less than they may have once wanted. This is a story of much being given to those that don’t want or need and much being taken from those who do want and need. It’s a time when people could be judged in their community for the tiniest of infringements on typical behaviour but when friendship can conquer many of life’s problems. The battered wife with her abusive husband are a world away from rich Lady Lytton and her well-to-do Suffragette friends but both women stand to benefit from the changes in the air. But change isn’t coming fast enough for some and Grace’s fear of being judged for what’s happened to her is the fear of the sinned against rather than the sinner.
I was initially deeply irritated by the dialogue in The World is a Wedding. The sing-songy backwards sentence construction and twee expressions like “There’s beautiful the bride is” or “There’s busy you are knitting, dear” really grated on my ears. The use of this style was patchy and thankfully after a while I stopped finding it quite so annoying perhaps because it was so inconsistently applied. I also found some of the sub-plots a little cheesy. When Wilfred is teaching Flora Myfanwy to drive the hearse, or the couple are judging the local dog show, or Flora Myfanwy is trying to bring some sense of cleanliness to a house that’s been home to two men for many years, it’s sometimes a bit too twee. However, despite my initial reservations, I stuck with the story and came to care a lot more about the characters than I expected. I also appreciated that the author didn’t always take the obvious route of tying up all the loose ends conveniently. She could very easily have solved Grace and Flora Myfanwy’s problems in one quick exchange but she didn’t. Running away from their problems wouldn’t really have suited either woman in the longer term and Wendy Jones did well to avoid the obvious opportunity for a short term fix.
Would I read another in the series? Probably not as I’m not sure the characters and situations really have enough scope for making an extended set of books about Wilfred and the town of Narberth. I’m intrigued enough to think I might track down the first book just to see if it would have made a difference to my interpretation of the second, but possibly knowing what happens in the follow-up would spoil reading the original.
It wasn’t perhaps entirely my cup of tea but I enjoyed spending time with Wilfred, Flora Myfanwy and Grace, a lot more than I expected.
The World is a Wedding by Wendy Jones
Published by Corsair, September 2013
With thanks to Corsair Books for sending a pre-publication copy.
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