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March 29, 2010

Barbara Pym again

It sounds like I’m being cutesy, but it’s true: something had been a little “off” around here, reading-wise, and it dawned on me that the problem was that I hadn’t read Barbara Pym in ages. So I’ve got on that with Some Tame Gazelle, her first published novel, which she started writing whilst a student at Oxford, proof that she’d been turned onto middle-age spinsters early.

Also, aren’t these Moyer Bell editions quite lovely? The prints call Persephone Books to mind, though of course these aren’t quite as artful, but they’re also ridiculously inexpensive. I love them.

Though I know exactly why I love Barbara Pym, I can think of all kinds of reasons why I might not– she’s never written an opening scene that didn’t involve the vicar or the curate (and I don’t even know what a curate is), not to mention that Jane Austen comparison (because I’m not really so crazy about Jane Austen myself). The last Pym novel I read was Unsuitable Attachment (which was the fourth Pym novel I’d read) and I finally saw the Austen comparison, in that so much of her plots are to do with couplings.

With Pym, however, the couplings are merely an excuse for everything else, rather than ends in themselves. And everything else is usually absurd, funny, understated and surprising. With a great degree of subtlety, she deals with adultery, homosexuality, loneliness, friendship, spirituality, marriage and sexuality, which is a surprising array for a writer who’d been dealing with spinsters since adolescence. I love her narrators, and their English reserve, and the story we glimpse around this. And yes, I love the tea. Always, the tea, and the irresistible bookishness.

Barbara Pym is charming, delightful, splendid, and so smart. Now that I’m reading her again, all is right with the world.

3 thoughts on “Barbara Pym again”

  1. Kristin says:

    I just finished that one too! I think it might be my favorite Barbara Pym so far. At first I thought I wouldn’t like it as much as the books with a younger protagonist, but I loved the sisters.

    1. Kerry says:

      All her books take me a bit of time to warm to, just because it always seems so unlikely that I would like a book about spinsters sisters and the new curate. But I always do. (Plus there is a Harriet).

  2. Sherry says:

    Yes I think that is what is wrong with my world. I will try to read her again too.

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