Mediocre Pym book which I sped-read, trying to avoid the overwhelming scent of lotion that lingered on the library’s copy from a previous patron. I love Pym’s commitment to writing from an elderly spinster’s perspective, but this was too slapstick, with the main character, Dulcie, traipsing about the countryside looking in graveyards and otherwise putting together clues about Dr. Forbes, the man who ultimately shows up at her doorstep to declare his love only a week after Dulcie’s much younger niece has rejected his advances. The best part of reading Pym is for the throwaway lines, like this one that her housekeeper flings at her: “You read too much, that’s your trouble. They [men] don’t like it.” Dulcie replies, “No, I don’t think they do.”
A harmonious tale of four solitary lives interwoven together—the two women and two men work together in some dusty forgotten office, marking the days down as they approach retirement. The men are widowers and the women never married. All live alone and grapple with aging by themselves with the perils that come with that. Each a character unique in their own way—sloppy or trim, religious or haphazard. One woman dies and leaves her house to one of the men in the office that doesn’t have a house; he must spend time clearing out the shed of milk bottles she was hoarding. The other woman’s plans for retirement centered around going to live with an old friend in the country, but those are dashed when the friend decides to marry a village priest. Wry, sparse, occasionally funny. Pym is always a treat.
Typical Pym, nailing the voice of an older narrator:
She had always been an unashamed reader of novels, but if she hoped to find one which reflected her own sort of life she had come to realise that the position of an unmarried, unattached, ageing woman is of no interest whatever to the writer of modern fiction.
An excellent novel, Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. The phrase denotes women who are great but unmarriageable, and is used tongue-in-cheek by the narrator of the story, Mildred Lathbury, a capable spinster living in her own flat but sharing a bathroom with the downstairs flat. New neighbors move in, the Napiers, and disrupt Mildred’s quiet life. Helena is an anthropologist, quite independent, and finds herself in love with a man not her husband. Rocky is the husband, serving as a Naval officer in Italy and winding up home with Helena to find her attracted to Eduard. Mildred’s closest friends are the vicar’s sister and the vicar, and that relationship goes topsy-turvy when they take in a border, a widowed Mrs Grey who soon becomes engaged to the vicar but the relationship sours when Mrs Grey insists that Winifred, the sister, must find somewhere else to live. Through the drama, Mildred counts and recounts her blessings about not being married, having to defend herself against unjust accusations that she is in love with this or that man. Eduard invites her over for dinner in his flat but she can’t bear the thought of having to cook his dinner for him, so she declines. In the end, she’s there, taking the roast chicken out of the oven, dreaming up how her life will be as she helps him with this scholarly work.
One interesting bit I picked up is the use of “any road” as another way to say “anyway”: Mrs Morris says ‘Let’s have a fag, any road.’