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Quartet in Autmun - Barbara Pym

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I've never read anything by Barbara Pym, always meant to, never got around to it. So, I grabbed this one in the library last week and put the matter right at long last.

Quartet In Autumn is about four office workers who work together in the same department and are all close to retirement. Letty, Marcia, Edwin and Norman are what you might call 'invisible' to the world around them. All single, rather on the boring side and, worst of all, 'old'. Letty and Marcia retire at the same time and the story follows what happens to them - Letty's decision to move from her flat, Marcia's steady decline, and how the two men reluctantly become involved. We learn of Edwin's obsession with the church and his search for accommodation for Letty when the friend she plans to live with falls in love with the vicar. It's all very British and everyone is very reserved in a way that I'm not sure people are any more - and yet...

It's a simple tale, beautifully told, wickedly observed with a lot of humour to balance the poignancy. The sadness of the human lot is illustrated in a very straightforward and unsentimental way; the author never seeks to judge, merely to say, 'This is how it is for some people'. The book is set in the 1970s and it would be easy to say, 'Oh well, things have changed'. They have indeed but, as someone once said, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same'. These people are of a type not seen very much these days but loneliness is still out there in all its different guises. A wonderful book, well worth reading.

Comments

I ADORE Barbara Pym :D Funnily enough, I think that's the first of her books I read, too :-)
I'm planning to read more as soon as I can get to the library to see what they've got. What would you recommend? This one was *so* good. I had a weird moment when they found all the tins in Marcia's kitchen cupboard because that's what happened to my mother. I think I might have a buy a couple of her books if the library can't come up with the goods.
I'd recommend Excellent Women (1952); A Glass of Blessings (1958); and Less Than Angels (1955) - but really they are all good, with the sole exception of the novel she left unfinished at the time of her death. I think she's a very humane writer, who understands human nature and its frailties.

Also well worth reading is Hazel Holt's biography of Pym, A Lot to Ask.
I have a feeling that the library had Excellent Women but am not certain. I'll nab it if it has.

And how odd - I opened the new Persephone magazine to read last night and there was an article about... Barbara Pym. :-)
I (rather obviously!) don't agree with Persephone's and AS Byatt's take on Pym, but at the same time her books are, as far as I know, still in print, and enjoyed by a great many people, so I don't think she'd fit as a Persephone author.
Oh, you do have some pleasure in store!

And have you ever read any Angela Thirkell? Not in the same class as Pym but her pre-war and WWII books are very entertaining (except Ankle Deep and Oh These Men, These Men which were *very* early and unimpressive). Pomfret Towers and The Brandons were my first exposure.

Unfortunately her later books were reactionary and rather rambling, though they often have enjoyable bits.
I haven't read any Angela Thirkell but for some reason her name is very familiar. Might have been from reading the latest Persephone magazine. I shall keep an eye out.
Oooh, *Runs off to Amazon*
It's different. A very gentle read but with a definite point to make.
Duly ordered :-)