Excellent Women, Barbara Pym

Recommended to me by my dear friend tim, who is extremely clever as she can draw, knit, cook, and do complicated math problems.  She recently became addicted to Barbara Pym so I checked two of Ms. Pym’s books out of the library.

Excellent Women is all about a spinster called Mildred Lathbury living in post-WWII England, being excellent by helping out at the vicarage and doing good works.  This is not very exciting for her.  However, she gets some new neighbors – an anthropologist woman who is not good at housekeeping, and her very charming and cheerful ex-military husband, by whom I was never very impressed.  Moreover, her closest friends – the vicar Julian Malory and his sister Winifred – have some issues of their own going on, as Julian unstaunchly forgets about his beliefs that clergy shouldn’t marry, and gets engaged to a widow called Allegra.

You evidently don’t read Barbara Pym for the plots.  Which was okay in this book, because it was quite funny and entertaining in an understated way, but in other books that were less funny it might get a bit trying.  (tim is more tolerant than I am of these plot-lite books.)  In this case it was most enjoyable, and I completely felt sorry for Mildred, getting asked to do everything for everyone.  It did seem to stop a bit abruptly – like nothing had particularly come to an end, but Ms. Pym just got tired of the book and decided to stop writing it.

I don’t know what I will read next.  I am reading a whole bunch of books right now, because I suddenly remembered how interesting sexual ethics are and checked out loads of books about that, so I’m going between: Virgin: An Untouched History, Rereading Sex (which is all about sexual mores in 19th-century America, and told me an interesting thing about graham crackers, which I will share with you later), Notes from a Small Island (which I got out of the library to stop myself borrowing my mother’s copy that she just received for Christmas, because I really miss England), The Underdog (a book by Markus Zusak I didn’t even know existed until my sister gave it to me for Christmas!!!), The Sixteen Pleasures (which I keep seeing on my desk at inopportune moments, when I am busy with something else and can’t pick it back up), and The Film Club (which I took pity on because it’s been lying around my room for ages and I’ve just been too busy with other things to get around to reading it).

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One thought on “Excellent Women, Barbara Pym

  1. I’m a recent Pymhead too. I read this last fall and thought it was delightful – the other one I love is An Unsuitable Attachment. Like a big bowl of custard, that one was.

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