No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym

Earlier in the year, I had a lot of fun with Barbara Pym’s much-loved novel, Excellent Women (1952). It came as part of a set of three Pym novels from The Book People, so when Simon reviewed No Fond Return of Love (also included in my purchase), this sounded like the ideal follow-on read.

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The protagonist in No Fond Return (1961) is Dulcie Mainwaring, a thirty-something-year-old spinster who works as an indexer and proof-reader from her home in the London suburbs. As the novel opens, Dulcie has just arrived at a ‘learned conference’ for indexers and suchlike, a gathering she hopes will give her an opportunity to meet some new people and to observe something of the lives of others, even if it’s only for a day or two. (A few months earlier, Dulcie had broken up with her former fiancé, Maurice, a separation that has left her feeling rejected and mindful of her position as a somewhat lonely spinster; hence her decision to come to the meeting in the hope of experiencing something a little different.)

On the first evening of the conference, Dulcie meets Viola Dace, a fellow indexer who happens to be staying in the room next door. At first sight, the two women present quite a contrast to one another – Dulcie looks rather dowdy in her tweed suit and brogues while Viola appears more confident with her black dress and rather unruly hair. As the two women get talking, it becomes clear that Viola knows one of the speakers at the conference, the rather handsome editor, Dr Aylwin Forbes. Here’s a short excerpt from their conversation – it’s a beautifully observed scene, characteristic of Pym’s ability to convey so much during a brief exchange.

Viola named the journal which Aylwin Forbes edited. ‘I happen to know him rather well,’ she added.

‘Oh?’

‘He and I were once…’ Viola hesitated, teasing out the fringe of her black and silver stole.

‘I see,’ Dulcie said, but of course she did not see. What was it they were once, or had been once to each other? Lovers? Colleagues? Editor and assistant editor? Or had he merely seized her in his arms in some dusty library in a convenient corner by the card index catalogues one afternoon in spring? Impossible to tell, from Viola’s guarded hint. How irritating it sometimes was, the delicacy of women!

‘Is he married?’ asked Dulcie stoutly.

‘Oh, of course – in a sense, that is,’ said Viola impatiently.

Dulcie nodded. People usually were married, and how often it was ‘in a sense’. (pg. 7)

It turns out that Viola has a bit of history with Aylwin, having fallen for him while she was working on the index for one of his books at some point in the not-too-distant past. Even though very little actually happened between the two of them, Aylwin’s wife, Marjorie, must have found out about Viola as she ended up leaving her husband to move back in with her mother. With Aylwin effectively separated from Marjorie, Viola hopes to rekindle the relationship; Aylwin, on the other hand, seems more intent on avoiding Viola as far as possible.

When she realises that Aylwin may not be terribly keen to get involved with her again, Viola turns to Dulcie for moral support. Like Mildred in Excellent Women, Dulcie is one of those reliable types who can be called upon in moments of distress, often putting the needs of others before her own, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.

Somehow these two rather mismatched women end up staying in touch with one another after the conference, a connection that Viola is keen to utilise when she needs a new place to live. In this scene, Dulcie has taken a call from Viola asking if she can stay with her for a few weeks, just until she finds a new place to live. Even though deep down she knows she is being used, Dulcie cannot help feeling flattered and recognised in some way when Viola makes her approach.

Dulcie came away from the telephone with mixed feelings. She realised dimly that Viola was making use of her, yet it was flattering to feel that she had been chosen, even to be made use of. Though perhaps she had been approached only as a very last resort – ‘that big house, plenty of room, but in the suburbs…a woman I met at the conference in August – rather dreary but a good-natured soul…’ (pg. 57)

A few days later, Viola moves in with Dulcie and her eighteen-year-old niece, Laurel, who has come to stay with her aunt while she takes a course at secretarial college.

Dulcie, for her part, is also attracted to Aylwin; after all, he is rather good looking, even if he is in his late forties. She is somewhat fascinated by this rather handsome academic; and so, putting her research skills to good use, she embarks on a sort of quest to discover everything she can about him and his family. (In effect, this interest in others offers Dulcie some kind of excitement and light relief from the mundane nature of her everyday life.) Through a sequence of bizarre coincidences and lucky breaks, Dulcie’s natural sense of curiosity brings both her and Viola into contact with several members of Aylwin’s extended family. There is Aylwin’s wife, the rather dreary Marjorie, and her mother, Mrs Williton; Alywin’s brother, Neville, a vicar with woman troubles of his own; and the boys’ mother, the rather formidable Mrs Forbes, owner of the Eagle House Hotel in Taviscombe. (The actual plot is more than a little far-fetched, but I suspect that’s all part of the fun in a Pym novel!)

Alongside the main characters, there is a large cast of secondary characters, most notably Dulcie’s next-door neighbour, Mrs Beltane, and her blue-rinsed poodle, Felix, the beady-eyed dog with a penchant for petit fours. Like Excellent Women, No Fond Return contains a number of rather comical set-pieces, all played out in this familiar Pym world of afternoon tea, jumble sales, church gatherings and various learned organisations. As one might expect, each scene is very keenly observed.

Threaded through the novel are Dulcie’s observations and reflections on the nature of relationships, particularly those between men and women. On two or three occasions, she thinks back to her time with Maurice and wonders if it is sadder to have loved someone unworthy of her affection than never to have loved at all. (Maurice had not wanted to marry Dulcie, or as he put it ‘he was not worthy of her love’.) With the benefit of hindsight, she can now see that the marriage would have been a mistake.

If I had married Maurice, she thought doubtfully, I might have had a child, but the picture of herself as a mother did not become real. It was Maurice who had been the child. Theirs would have been one of those rather dreadful marriages, with the wife a little older and a little taller and a great deal more intelligent than the husband. Yet, although she was laughing, there was a small ache in her heart as she remembered him. (pgs. 51-52)

The suitability (or not) of various ‘matches’ is a key theme. When Dulcie meets Aylwin’s wife, Marjorie, she finds her rather dull and drab. Surely Aylwin would be better suited to someone who could support him and help him with his work? Someone like Dulcie, perhaps. (To complicate matters further, Aylwin has taken a fancy to Laurel, Dulcie’s young niece – and that relationship, should it ever become serious, would most certainly not be considered an appropriate match!) As the novel draws to a close, Dulcie begins to wonder whether all loving relationships have a touch of the ridiculous about them. Perhaps there aren’t any ‘perfect’ matches in life after all?

At times, there is a sense that Dulcie finds it more comfortable to live vicariously through the lives of others rather than attempting to change her own. (There are a number of references to how characters might behave and how scenes might play out if they were in a novel.) Nevertheless, she remains open to new experiences and somewhat hopeful for the future; maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that love will be returned fondly after all.

No Fond Return of Love is published by Virago Modern Classics; personal copy.

61 thoughts on “No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym

  1. madamebibilophile

    Lovely review Jacqui – I really enjoy Pym and you’ve captured exactly why! I’ve not read No Fond Return of Love but I will definitely seek it out, it sounds wonderful :-)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you, madame bibi! I am so glad to have ‘discovered’ Pym as her books are such a delight. I feel sure you would enjoy this one too.

      Reply
  2. Tredynas Days

    You don’t really say if you enjoyed the novel, Jacqui: did you? I found it less engaging than EW, maybe a bit more far-fetched, as you suggest. She’s a sort of mid-century Alan Bennett – that wry, whimsical humour with a sharp edge. Thanks for the link to my piece.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      You’re very welcome, Simon – thanks for providing me with the nudge to pick it up. I did enjoy it, yes – maybe not quite as much as Excellent Women, but then again it’s often hard to top one’s first experience of any novelist’s work. If I had a criticism of No Fond Return, it would be the length and pacing. I really loved the first half, but the ending just felt a little too drawn out. Overall, it’s probably about 40 pages too long. Mind you, that’s a fairly minor quibble as I still had a lot of fun with it!

      Reply
  3. Pingback: My Reading List for The Classics Club | JacquiWine's Journal

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ha! Well, I only read Excellent Women earlier this year, so I’m a bit of a late starter as far as Pym’s concerned. I would definitely recommend EW ahead of this one, but it would make a good follow-on read for sure.

      Reply
  4. Caroline (Bookword)

    Another great review! I like the way you mix Barbara Pym, the novelist, with her story of these women. I will have to (re) visit this novel soon, thanks to your enthusiasm.
    Caroline

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Caroline. Even though it’s only my second Pym, I’m starting to build up a picture of her territory, this world of distressed gentlewomen, clergymen and slightly eccentric academics. (Funnily enough, I went to see the film ‘Foster Florence Jenkins’ yesterday, and there was a reference to ‘distressed gentlewomen’ which made me think of Pym!) Plus several of Pym’s scenes offer great opportunities for her to flex her muscles on the social observation front – all those meals, afternoon teas and jumble sales are just made for it. I hope you do revisit this novel soon as it would be great to see a review from you.

      Reply
  5. Sarah

    After reading several enthusiastic reviews, I’ve started buying secondhand Pym novels when I see them, and while i ‘ve now got quite a stack I haven’t got round to reading any yet. Your review has given me the nudge I needed to go and dig one out! :)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Good plan to buy these secondhand. (I’ve been doing something similar with Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, especially those lovely old green Virago editions which are so much nicer than the current versions.) I can’t recommend Pym highly enough as her novels are such a delight. She’s one of my most enjoyable ‘discoveries’ in recent years – you have such treats in store!

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you, Ali! Yes, I loved Dulcie’s ‘obsession’ with Aylwin – and the way it spins out to cover virtually every member of his extended family is quite a hoot.

      Reply
  6. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I did love the Pym I read, but I got to the point where I’d read too many too close together and they were blurring together a little. I love her acidity and her observations, but I do think she needs to be spaced out a lot so as to be appreciated more.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ah, yes, I can see how that might become a slight downside with this author as I get the feeling that several of her books are riffs on fairly similar themes (well, certainly the early ones before she returned from the wilderness). That’s good advice, Karen – maybe I’ll leave my next Pym till later this year/early 2017.

      Reply
      1. kaggsysbookishramblings

        That’s a good way of putting it – the riffs are good ones, but the themes are similar and my reading of Pym too close together suffered because of it.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          I can totally understand what you mean by that, especially as I’d already spotted quite a few common threads between this one and Excellent Women. With respect to her early novels, she is perhaps a little more ‘one note’ than someone like Elizabeth Taylor whose books I’ve also been enjoying of late. Even though there are some similarities across the Taylors I’ve read (particularly in terms of characterisation and insight), her novels seem more differentiated from one another than Pym’s. Still, that’s not a criticism of Pym – I’m more than happy to drop back into her world again when the time is right! (Plus, I’ve only read two, so maybe it’s a little too early for me to be saying this.)

          Reply
          1. kaggsysbookishramblings

            Spot on again, Jacqui – although a Taylor is always recognisable as a Taylor, she steps outside what might be considered her normal world quite often, and her books are definitely more varied than Pym. I don’t want to seem to be overcritical of Pym either, because I did enjoy what I read, and sensed plenty of subtle undercurrents – but as I said I think I was reading her in the wrong way! :)

            Reply
            1. JacquiWine Post author

              Interesting to see that we’ve formed similar impressions of these writers. I shall definitely try to put a bit of space between Pym’s novels. Cheers, Karen. :)

              Reply
  7. Lady Fancifull

    Oh Jacqui, you are at it again with your minxish, tempting ways! You have reminded me that I have enjoyed Pym. I read this some years ago, and now will add her to that growing list of authors to search for in charity shops.

    I am nearing the end of another reminder/temptation from you – Christopher Isherwood’s Mr Norris Changes Trains, very happily re-acquainting myself. Review no doubt next week as today’s and Friday’s are done and scheduled

    I really like that kind of earlier, literary wit and humour, precise little stabs of throwaway barbs, playful and a bit spiteful. No one is SHOUTING ‘I AM FUNNY’ at you, the aim is not to produce uncontrolled weepings of laughter, but sharp little barks of recognition. Dry, wry, clever

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Haha! Sorry, Lady F, but there we go. Pym’s more than worthy of inclusion in your charity shop wishlist. Yes – dry, wry and clever is a very fitting description of this writer’s work. There’s a bit of bite, but not too much for things to turn sour or nasty for these women. Plus I love the way Pym weaves her observations about relationships into these stories, all of it achieved in a manner that never feels too forced or heavy handed. You’re right about the recognition too – I found myself mentally nodding away as I was reading about these characters (especially the ladies in Excellent Women, but here too).

      So glad to hear you’ve been enjoying Mr Norris all over again. I’ll keep an eye out for your review – looking forward to it already.

      Reply
      1. Lady Fancifull

        I think my remarks about the style of humour can apply equally well to Isherwood, in the guise of his narrator in Mr Norris Changes Trains! I find it very different from what often passes for ‘funny’ today. I swear I have turned po faced : so much humour seems designed to appeal to the inner naughty four year old in a 20-30 year old body! Oscar Wilde and the other denizens of Witville must be revolving pretty fast in their graves!

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Ah, of course – you may have been referring to Isherwood there. As you say though, those comments on the style of humour can apply just as well to both writers – I read it as the perfect description of Pym! (I am so much happier in the world of these older novels that I often wonder if I was born in the wrong era – no wonder my mother loved this style so much.)

          Reply
          1. Lady Fancifull

            To be fair though Jacqui, I do think that a lot of stuff published today just wouldn’t have been, then – the sheer volume of it, not to mention the self-pub stuff. I’m sure there probably was also a lot of dross, but the stuff which we go back to – or discover for the first time – I’m aware of a lovely crafting of the language. We’ve got generally much sloppier about language, grammar, the rules and structure of language. Rules can of course be broken, but perhaps you need to know what they are to be able to break them effectively! It’s just occurred to me that many of these older twentieth century writers would still have been learning Latin in school, and I wonder how much learning that dead language subliminally taught people things about structure and form?

            Reply
            1. JacquiWine Post author

              Just thinking about your first point, that’s very true. The stuff that has survived has done so for a reason. I think we’ve reflected on something similar before, a sense of these writers honing their craft over a sequence of books, a love of language coupled with strong characterisation and insightful observations on their worlds. It’s an interesting point about Latin – I hadn’t really thought about it before now, but as you say, there’s a lot to be said for merits of learning a classical language in terms of structure and form…and grammar too of course.

              Reply
              1. Lady Fancifull

                Well, you know, I thought about it for the first time, as a result of our conversation on here, and thinking about that precision of writing found in some of these earlier twentieth century writers.

                Reply
  8. Brian Joseph

    Great review as always Jacqui.

    I do not know if this makes sense, but stories where the main characters are involved with bookish professions are a little more interesting to me.

    I like the passages that you quoted. Observations about relationships often make for really good writing.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Brian. Yes, it does make sense – it’s hard to resist a novel about bookish things, whether it’s libraries, bookshops or (as in this case) bookish professions. I think you’d enjoy Pym and her social observations on this world – she’s been compared to Jane Austen and I can understand why.

      Reply
  9. Jonathan

    I haven’t read anything by Pym but this one does sound like fun….but that cover is dreadful….ugh!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      It is tremendous fun, especially if you’re prepared to suspend belief and just run with it. Her characters get themselves into the most absurd situations but that’s all par for the course in Pym world. Yes, that cover…ahem. I think I’d be laughed out of the room if I whipped it out as a suggested read for my book group. Eyes would roll.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I feel sure you would enjoy her, Melissa. Her books are just the most tremendous fun – great pick-me-ups when you’re in need of something bright, witty and sharp. I’m glad you like the cover as this style of artwork does divide opinion somewhat. Mind you, it does capture something of the novel so that’s no bad thing, I guess!

      Reply
  10. Maureen Murphy

    “Don’t know a cross-reference from a double-post? Confused about what’s indexable and what’s not? Sign up for the Newbies Class at the ASI-ISC/SCI Indexing Conference in Chicago….” http://www.asindexing.org/ [Coming up June, 2016, Folks!]

    What fun, Jacqui! I agree that Miss. Pym (as I call her) should be spaced out a bit, but she will always hold a permanent and cherished place on my bedroom bookshelf, and never be relegated to the storage room boxes. Would suggest changing it up a bit as you go by alternating, for example, with someone like William Vollman. They are both brilliant, but I think they are like Matter and Anti-Matter in their work and perspective.

    Ah! The indexers. Jacqui, laughed out loud at the opening and Dulcie’s attendance! Went to an intro conference of the American Society of Indexer’s about ten years ago. Determined at time not the best career option for me, but what a wonderful group of (about 98%) women, the broadest assortment of characters and backgrounds you could hope for, with a very strong, bluestocking strain. Most went into the profession for the joy of “spending the whole day reading,” but there is a lot more to it as a business.

    I love the sense of dignity with which Miss. Pym views her “excellent women”… and their quiet strength in the face of the innumerable slings and arrows of their station in life, not to mention their occasional “naughtiness” of genteel stalking, and some likely purple fantasies, most of which are most likely never acted out, but keep their complexion pink and rosy, and the blood flowing. : )

    *********************************

    “Maurice had not wanted to marry Dulcie, or as he put it ‘he was not worthy of her love’”

    Oh Maurice! Anything but THAT! The opening of what was a pretty mediocre movie (“He’s Just Not That Into You”) had a set piece on exactly that form of being dumped by a dude. Calculated to get the coward off feeling that he can’t be accused of “hurting” you, but the type of rejection that hits you at 2:00 a.m. that night, as you realize that you are, in fact, alone, and he is moving on to the 19 year old hot yoga instructor he always called “shallow.” But we Stalwart Pymians awaken with the sun, dry our tears, eat our spinster’s breakfast (a la Downton Abbey) in the dining room, and march on into the day. UNLIKE Downton Abbey (which we find ridiculous, but a guilty pleasure) we are smart enough to know that, we are not Lady Edith (or her ancestor, Jane of Wuthering Heights), and will not be marrying an Earl or a brooding Rochester-type, but will likely just keep indexing, with occasional summer trips to St. Ives for water coloring and seafood with Great Aunt Mildred.

    *********************************

    “the rather formidable Mrs Forbes, owner of the Eagle House Hotel in Taviscombe”

    The formidable Mrs. Forbes of the world are so much fun. The only thing more fun are the “bad Aunts” from somewhere in North Africa who come home and raise hell. (or maybe “bad” school chums of Mom from Egypt, a la “The Summer House). The formidable and “bad” have qualities of sheer social dominance and/or insouciance that are generally a bit beyond we Pymians, but we secretly admire them and peep at them from behind the curtains. [MAM Note: I am currently vigorously engaged in incorporating a little more real “badness” and “insouciance” into my own life, but will say no more at the moment].

    Rambled on a bit here, but enjoyed your entry very much. Hail Barbara!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you so much, Maureen, for such a delightful sequence of comments. I think you just might be a worthy successor to Miss Pym herself. Your musings had me in stitches as I was reading through your response to my post. That society for indexers you linked to looks as though it might have come straight out of this novel – what larks!

      Yes, that’s sound advice from both you and Karen about spacing out these doses of Pym world. I will certainly do that. William Vollman is a new one on me, but I’ll look him up – many thanks for the suggestion.

      Great point about the quiet strength and sense of dignity in Pym’s portrayal of these most excellent women. It’s evident both here and in EW itself, of course. I think that’s one of the reasons why I find these novels so engaging – alongside the larks and dry wit Pym brings to these novels, she always views these gentlewomen in a sympathetic light. One never feels as though she is out for cheap laughs at the expense of a bit of warmth and compassion.

      I love your comments about Maurice, too! Dulcie was so much better than him, and I’m glad she found a way to move forward in her life. Ah, Mrs Forbes and her Eagle House Hotel. I don’t know if you can recall it, but Pym actually makes a brief cameo appearance as one of the guests at the boarding house in Taviscombe. The scene in question is fairly near the end of the novel, and lack of space prevented me from mentioning it in my review, but it did bring a smile to my face.

      Anyway, lovely comments, Maureen. I’m so glad my post revived a few memories of the marvellous Miss Pym for you!

      Reply
      1. Maureen Murphy

        WOW! Barbara Pym, an unexpectedly “Meta” novelist!

        It is so funny you mention a “successorship” to her, which I would maybe call more of an “acolyte-ship”…. I may have mentioned this to you in a previous comment, but someone reading one of my drafts (of a would-be legal thriller) suggested I wasn’t really cut out to be a Balducci or a John Grisham but that my writing “reminded her of Barbara Pym.” Yes, several of my efforts have some very “Pymian” women, but they skew a bit more Boston Irish-Catholic working class. : )

        DO check out William Vollman, he is a wildman but fascinating: suggest starting with “The Dying Grass” https://www.amazon.com/Dying-Grass-Novel-Nez-Perce-ebook/dp/B00OZ0TKF2?ie=UTF8&keywords=Volmann&qid=1463593148&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1 A. National Book award winner, and tale of the U.S. Nez Perce Indian War and part of an ongoing series of U.S. historical novels by Volmann. Many other topics in his writing as well, some from the extreme edge of American culture.

        Best, Maureen M.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          I know – who would have thought it! Sounds like you’ve been channeling a touch of Pym in your own writing and that’s no bad thing in my opinion.

          Thanks for the recommendation of the Vollman – I will check it out. Cheers.

          Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, many of her themes still have a bearing on today’s world. I’d like to try one of her post-wilderness novels at some point, maybe A Quarter in Autumn which I believe is a favourite of yours?

      Reply
  11. 1streading

    What a lot of love there is for Barbara Pym, but I’m still not convinced she’s for me. Not entirely sure why, perhaps simply because she sounds like too much fun!
    Would it be fair to say she is on the side of some of her characters in a way that more savage writers are not?

    Reply
    1. Maureen Murphy

      1streading and JacquiWine:

      Interesting comment. I’m also reminded of Alexander McCall Smith, and the “Ladies Detective Agency” novels. An essential gentleness there, along with piercing insights into the human condition. My own Mom (84) loves McCall Smith, and I think the reason is that she dealt with a lot of issues in her life (violence, working as aid in state mental hospital) and at this point, wants to immerse herself in a kinder world than this one. She is aware of the darkness and horror DON’T READ NEXT LINES IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE: (to just name one thing she dealt with, one patient had to be put behind an electronic fence, as he was pulling out his helpless roommate’s fingernails and toenails at night) but does not want to be part of it any more than she has to.

      [OK, BACK TO NICER TOPICS] My own personal criteria are that I am open to reading the raw and savage, as well as the genteel and quiet. What I AM looking for is the perception and intelligence of the author. The one thing I don’t like is an essential “coldness of heart” emanating from the soul of the writer. The novelist that that brings this to mind for me is Muriel Spark. She works in some superficially similar milieus as Barbara Pym, but she can be SO nasty! Brrrrrr. Not for me.

      Cheers!
      Maureen Murphy

      Reply
      1. JacquiWine Post author

        Thanks, Maureen. Funny you should mention McCall Smith. I’ve never read him, but I’m pretty sure he penned the introduction to my Virago edition of Excellent Women so he’s clearly a fan of Pym’s work.

        Interesting contrast with Muriel Spark – I’ve had a couple of false starts with her early novels (The Comforters and Memento Mori), but I’m going to persist with her! The Girls of Slender Means is in my TBR so I’ll get to it at some point. :)

        Reply
    2. JacquiWine Post author

      Haha! Yes, so much love for Pym, and you’re missing out on all the fun. ;)

      Seriously though, to answer your question – yes, I think that’s a fair assessment. Even though Pym’s early books are laced with dry wit, she always treats her characters with sympathy. Well, certainly the ‘nice’ ones – Maurice doesn’t come out of things too well here, but then again he is a bit of a cad. (I was going to mention the contrast with Muriel Spark, who strikes me as being a more savage writer than Pym, but Maureen has already covered it.) If you were looking to give Pym a try, maybe you should consider one of her later novels, either Quartet in Autumn or The Sweet Dove Died? I haven’t read either of them yet, but I hear they’re darker than her early books. They might be more your cup of tea?

      Reply
  12. naomifrisby

    This sounds like good fun. I’m sure I commented on your previous Pym review that I’ve never read her but I bought one of those packs of several of her novels a couple of years ago. It’s probably time I got round to reading them!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Pym’s great fun, such a delicious treat! I feel sure you would enjoy her, Naomi. If you have Excellent Women in your stack, then I would suggest you start there. Alongside the fun and larks, it’s laced with interesting insights into life as a relatively young unmarried woman in the post-war years. I think you’d get a lot out of it.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Very welcome, Belinda. I’m so glad to have ‘discovered’ her. There’s a risk that a book like this could be seen as little more than a comedy of manners, but there’s actually more going on than that. I hope you’ll give Pym a go at some point – I’d be curious to see what you think of her.

      Reply
  13. Grab the Lapels

    At some point in time, I added a bunch of books to my Goodreads account and labeled them “catching up on classics.” I have Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women marked, but this book sounds really interesting. Which one did you like better?

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      While this one is a lot of fun, I think I preferred Excellent Women – partly because it was my first Pym and partly on account of the observations on life as a relatively young spinster in post-war Britain. (There’s a sense that Mildred — the main character — is ‘on the shelf’ even though she’s only in her early thirties.) Plus it’s laced with Pym’s trademark dry wit, so it should give you a feel for her style. I hope that helps – either way, she’s definitely worth reading!

      Reply
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  15. Max Cairnduff

    The fact you’re being used doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t still be gratifying to be useful.

    Dulcie, Viola, funny how these names die out.

    I’ve only read one Pym of course, A Glass of Blessings, but I think she was sympathetic to the characters and you’re right to say so. This sounds to be honest like less essential Pym, one for when I’ve read a few others perhaps. Great review as always, and great comments thread too.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, indeed. Pym’s very good on these little insights into our psychology, the desire to feel valued in some way – I noticed it here and in Excellent Women as well. She really does treat her characters with sympathy and compassion, and I like that aspect of her work.

      Blessings on my hit list, most definitely – especially given how well you took to it last year. This one’s a lot of fun, but it’s not quite a tight as Excellent Women. Not sure if you’re familiar with EW, but I’d place it ahead of this in the pecking order. In fact it might be in with a shout of making my end-of-year highlights.

      Reply
  16. Emma

    Great review, Jacqui (I’m catching up on posts I failed to catch up with before my holiday.)

    ” she embarks on a sort of quest to discover everything she can about him and his family” I wonder what Dulcie would do with the internet. Facebook stalk him?

    I haven’t read Pym so far, I guess I’d better start with Excellent Women.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Emma, Ha, yes – Dulcie would be all over Facebook and Twitter in her quest to discover everything and anything about Aylwin’s movements.

      Pym is a delight, and you should definitely give her a try sometime. Excellent Women would make a good starting point, I think. Then again, Marina was very fond of this one, so you can pretty much take your pick. Max’s one — A Glass of Blessings — sounded great too. I get the feeling it’s hard to go wrong with this writer, so much to enjoy. :)

      Reply
  17. Pingback: Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym | JacquiWine's Journal

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