My rating: 10/10.
This is the second time around for this book. My first reading left me gently pleased but not much more; this reading was much more rewarding, and I found I fully appreciated every nuance, every delicious – and occasionally malicious – little scenario.
This absolutely beautiful Folio edition certainly added to the experience; my first reading was of a yellowing paperback. I wonder if eyestrain is starting to influence my reading enjoyment? I do notice type clarity (and lack thereof) and font size much more these last few years.
And I must confess I almost passed this one by – “I already have it in paperback and it wasn’t that wonderful” – but am so glad I went back and splurged on this much more aesthetically pleasing book. Every sense was indulged by it! The pussywillows picked out in silver tipped the scales and sealed the impulse buy. I’m a sucker for pussywillows; these stole my heart. (On such small things do my buying decisions sometimes rest!)
Barbara Pym. Read her, and then reread her. Second time around is the key, here, I think. (Much as one needs to do with Diana Wynne Jones.)
At the rather young age of thirty-one, Mildred Lathbury, self-described “spinster” and “clergyman’s daughter” (both of these designations serving to explain her clear-eyed observations of other people’s lives, and her lack of sentiment about her own), is well on her way to becoming one of the titular “excellent women” so dutifully and frequently thanklessly keeping things on an even keel in the bleak post-World War II years. Surplus females of every age, in super-abundance at mid-century after the decimation of their generations’ crops of marriageable men in the two brutal cullings of the previous decades.
“They have nothing better to do,” shrug their “luckier” compatriots, “they might as well make themselves useful, and be grateful for the occupation…”
So they do. Make themselves useful, that is. Though, as Mildred so delicately observes, the gratitude frequently falls short on both sides of the equation.
Read quickly, this is a rather depressing, non-eventful, bleakly dreary minor tale. Not much happens. Mildred gets new neighbours, watches as the vicar of her church is pursued and almost caught by a predacious widow, narrowly escapes being saddled with an unwanted flatmate, and is offhandedly wooed in a most unromantic way by an anthropologist looking for a meek but competent dogsbody to take on the tedious task of editing his notes.
But, oh! – her inner voice! She misses nothing at all, our Mildred, and her wry observations are a joy to read.
I’m going to stop right here. What with it being Barbara Pym’s centenary year, and with the book blogging world full of mostly fulsome praise and beautifully written, thoughtful book reviews of her work (though the occasional dissenting voice is heard from, mostly from mildly querulous folk wondering what all the fuss is about – I can’t say I’ve yet come across anything resembling a brutal denunciation of Miss Pym) anything I have to add to the conversation is rather superfluous, I feel.
I liked this book. A whole lot. You might, too. My caveat: it might take more than one try.
Here are some excellent reviews, well worth reading. They include all of the excerpts I would have chosen myself.
Well done, all!
You’ve saved me much typing. Well, that, and also, more importantly, you’ve given me the great pleasure of reading your delightful posts. Thank you. A (fresh) wand of mimosa all round! (And a cup of China tea, if that be your desire. Unless you’d prefer a beer? Or a glass of wine, exciting or merely adequate?)
And there are many more.