The whimsical world of undertaker Wilfred Price springs to glorious life again in the second chapter of Wendy Jones’ enchanting Welsh odyssey.
In her keenly anticipated sequel to The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals, the remarkable debut novel that cast a spell over thousands of readers, Jones whisks us back to the historic Pembrokeshire town of Narberth in 1926.
A lovable and ingenuous hero, Wilfred’s first outing last year won hearts and minds, and it’s easy to see why his funereal and marital misadventures have been snapped up for a TV drama adaptation.
But Wilfred and his domestic and death-dealing dilemmas are not the only stars of this warm and affectionate slice of Welsh life; the landscape and its people are the charismatic supporting act, providing humour, irreverence and the gritty realities of a small town community.
After a brief and painful marriage to Grace Reece, which ended unconsummated and annulled, Wilfred is now married to Flora Myffanwy with whom he fell deeply in love on the day of her father’s funeral.
Wilfred has put the past behind him and all his energies are now focused on the fragrant Flora. The advice once given that the secret to a happy married life is two words – ‘Yes, dear’ – seems to be working its magic as they are now ‘expecting.’
But Flora is missing her first love Albert who died in the Great War and is clandestinely comparing the two men in a way that upsets her peace of mind. Engaged to Albert, she had felt unencumbered but with Wilfred, she is ‘rooted’ by marriage and impending motherhood.
Meanwhile, Grace has fled to London and become a chambermaid at the sumptuous Ritz Hotel, ‘a machine that manufactures tranquillity’ – but only for the guests.
Grace’s days are spent in the dull routine of making beds ‘with origami exactness,’ plumping cushions and cleaning lavatories whilst remaining generally unseen until, at the invitation of one of the guests, she finds herself drawn into the Suffragette movement.
But Grace has a secret, one that binds her to her old life in Wales, and soon Wilfred, Flora and Grace realise that, despite their efforts to escape the past, their lives are deeply and inextricably intertwined…
Life and love in a more innocent age is the key to Wilfred’s story but Jones does not allow her characters to simply wallow in the golden glow of nostalgia. A sense of earthiness abounds and no one in Narberth is immune to the trials, tribulations and tragedies that beset even the closest of communities.
The simple pleasures and visual, knockabout fun of Wilfred’s adventures are cleverly offset by the introduction of serious, complex issues and moments of deep pathos which add authenticity and subtlety to a memorable depiction of early 20th century life.
The World is a Wedding could well be read as a standalone novel but sequels are always more enjoyable when the cast and their back stories are familiar, and to miss out on the big picture would be to miss out on what has become a truly delightful double bill.
(Corsair, hardback, £14.99)