REVIEW: A Power to Charm by Frances Murray
This is a light-hearted story set in an Andalucian hill-village. Agnes, a mathematics teacher with some curious and useful abilities takes a holiday in Spain and meets a breeder of horses who asks her to marry him. She abandons her job and her father and the UK and comes to live in an Andalucian hill-village.
She, her husband and her mother-in-law (who shares those curious and useful abilities) defend the village where they live from the schemes of a go-ahead Mayoress who wishes to profit from tourism and ruin the village in the process. They are helped in this by a number of villagers both Spanish and foreign, as well as by the animals who are as individual as the villagers themselves. It is a book which will appeal in particular to those who have visited Spain or have lived there or who may still be living there.
Dear Ms. Murray,
I really didn’t know what to expect from this novel. The blurb holds tantalizing hints of what is to come but nothing is said out loud – a practice that the villagers hold to throughout. And I’d also never read a contemporary book by you. It turned out to be delightful but might not be a book for everyone.
Though the blurb is initially focused on Agnes, she is actually not the main character of the book. In fact, I’d say the main character whose actions are followed is Juana Pan – to call her by her bye-name among the village. Since so many villagers share first and or last names, all are known by something about their jobs in order to easily differentiate them. Juana Pan is a piece of work as well as the village Alcadesa. She has plans for it but not all of them – in fact most of them don’t – are things the villagers actually want. Can they manage to thwart her designs to “modernize” the village in ways that will enrich her and enrage them?
The old adage “it takes a village” is what this book is all about. To their chagrin, the people discover that when everyone else is too busy or lazy or uninterested in running for Alcade, they’re going to have to deal with the one candidate who did. The village is old (the “New” church is over 700 years old) and in need of some modernization but when things start being planned that they had no say in, anger starts to simmer. When it becomes increasingly clear that these “improvements” are being rammed through with one goal – making Juana Pan even richer – they realize that Something Must Be Done.
I had fun watching the two sides clash as Juana Pan has been in power long enough and is shrewd enough to know how to get her way. Or does she as the villagers, most with long memories and the increasing will to gum up the works, try and counter whatever she does. It’s almost like a political and urban planning game of checkers. The village meetings – where anonymous rude comments get shouted out from the back rows – are a hoot. The wisdom and knowledge of the seniors comes in handy as well as the convoluted land ownership and geography. I can easily imagine all these things helping or hurting – depending on which way you look at it – ancient villages in Spain as they make a grab for – or try to avoid – the changes brought on by the European Union.
There are loads of detail about the place and the people in the book. Some might find it overdone and the reading slow, but “A Power to Charm” takes a reader straight into a delightful if sometimes cantankerous place where it is the people fighting for their view of themselves that is the charmer. The paranormal stuff? That’s laid on with a lite touch as Agnes and Maria Perna know that if something can be done without it, it’s better that it is. B