THE title of this novel, its cover design and the comment on the back cover might lead readers to pass the story by as nothing but a delightful piece of whimsy.
Yet there is nothing frivolous about the storyline, set in Pembrokeshire in 1924 – indeed for one character, it has a tragic outcome.
Wilfred is a young man who has recently established his own funeral business in the rural Welsh village of Narbeth. He has been trained as an undertaker by his mentor, Mr Auden, who never appears in person in the story but whose succinct advice on anything and everything pervades Wilfred’s approach to life.
Wilfred is keen to improve his prospects by expanding into selling wallpaper, which is scarcely used in the village, and by reading the dictionary he has just purchased. First, however, he needs a deadly epidemic to raise money for his new business enterprises.
The love of his life is his six-year-old Super Ford hearse but his mentor recommended “No life without a wife”. His mother died at birth and he has been brought up by his father, who digs graves, sits by his late wife’s tombstone in his spare time and gives minimal advice to his son. Wilfred realises he does need to find a wife but is unsure how love comes about and approaches marriage in quite the wrong way.
When he sees a girl called Grace in a yellow dress at a garden party on a splendid summer’s day, he wonders how she puts it on and takes it off. Instead of saying, as he meant to, “How do you get out of your dress?”, he finds himself saying, “Will you marry me?” Her rapid acceptance might have given a more worldly man some suspicions but Wilfred presses ahead.
Soon he realises his mistake but extricating himself from engagement to the only daughter of the taciturn local doctor is beyond even his inventiveness. So he seems to be trapped because reneging on the engagement would damage his business. Help in extricating himself comes from the least likely person.
All that makes the book seem nothing but a humorous love story, but it is in part a sad tale and true to the inhibitions of its time. It is written in delightful, slightly old-fashioned language and that is a large part of the pleasure it brings.
The characters in Wilfred’s life are very realistically drawn, especially his father, and we’ve probably all met people like the members of the Mothers Union Thursday Club. Wendy Jones’s story may not be new, but it is engagingly told and thoroughly enjoyable.
• THE THOUGHTS AND HAPPENINGS OF WILFRED PRICE, PURVEYOR OF SUPERIOR FUNERALS
BY WENDY JONES
Corsair, 264pp, £12.99
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