Monday, March 6, 2017

Reading Barbara Pym

Whenever I try to describe the plot of a Barbara Pym novel it never sounds like much. For example, Less Than Angels is about a group of anthropologists living and studying in London. There's Deirdre Swan, a first year student, Mark and Digby, two grad students hoping to get field grants, and Tom Mallow, the handsome one who's just returned from a two-year stint in Africa. And I mustn't forget Alaric Lydgate, also back from Africa, recently retired from the Colonial Service because of ill-health, and living next door to Deidre.  Tom lives with Catherine Oliphant, a writer, and is working on his thesis. Then he meets Deirdre. Who meets Catherine. Who meets Alaric. And none of them are ever the same again.

See? It doesn't sound like much, does it? But somehow, with her wit, charm, and keen insight into human nature, Pym can take the simplest of plots and turn it into a delightful story that sings. Less Than Angels is no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed this "simple" novel. But the best way to appreciate Pym's genius is to experience her writing and wit for yourself. So here are a few of my favorite Pym-isms:
"She sometimes felt, as she climbed the worn linoleum-covered stairs, that she was worthy of a more gracious setting, but then there are few of us who do not occasionally set a higher value on ourselves than Fate has done." 
"There are few experiences more boring and painful for a woman than an evening spent in the company of one man when she is longing to be with another."
"Deirdre, like Tom, was tired after the long walk and was glad when the time came to go to bed and dream about him. But dreams can seldom be arranged as we wish them, and Deirdre's were of Digby Fox, of all people." 
"The day was coming to its end, and although it had been tiring and upsetting it had at least been full and that, she supposed, was all to the good. Pain, amusement, surprise, resignation, were all woven together into a kind of fabric whose colour and texture she could hardly visualize as yet."
 Happy Reading!

Bookish bonus:  Since I pulled this book off my TBR shelf I get to count it as one of the ten books I'm reading for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge.
Books read so far:  3.  Still to go:  7.

Other Pym posts:

18 comments:

  1. It sounds perfect to me. I've yet to read Pym, but perhaps this is the one to start with. Thanks ;)

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    1. All the ones I've read have been good, but I have to say my favorite is Excellent Women. If you read any, you might want to start with that one. :)

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  2. I love "simple" stories. I'll have to try one hof her books.

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    1. She's got that Jane Austen feel but with a more modern setting. There's just something about her books that I really enjoy. :)

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  3. I need to read more Pym! I liked Some Tame Gazelle but I LOVED Excellent Women. I think it is almost a perfect book.

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    1. Excellent Women is definitely my favorite, too! It was the first Pym novel I ever read. :)

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  4. I really enjoyed this book too. It's still the only Barbara Pym novel I've read, but I'm hoping to read Excellent Women soon. :)

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    1. You will like that one; it's even better than Less Than Angels! :)

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  5. I am often stumped about what to say about a Barbara Pym novel! I love the quotes you chose.

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    1. Thanks! It's her writing that I love, and her subtle humor. But you're right, it's hard to find things to say about her plots. :)

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  6. I've not heard of her books, but this sounds like a delightful read after reading your thoughts on it. Will keep this book in mind, Lark. :)

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    1. I only discovered Barbara Pym a few years ago myself, but I have to admit, I'm kind of hooked on her now. I hope you get a chance to give her books a try someday. :)

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  7. Sounds like an interesting one!

    "There are few experiences more boring and painful for a woman than an evening spent in the company of one man when she is longing to be with another." - This I can definitely agree with!
    Though does it count if I use this in reference to cake when I'm spending time with a salad?

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    1. Ha! I think it definitely counts. :D

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  8. I've never read Pym, but I'm tempted to on the basis of those quotes alone. Wry wit has always appealed to me. Great choice for The Backlist Reader Challenge!

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    1. Thanks! And Pym has definitely mastered the art of wry wit and quiet satire. She's worth a try. :)

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  9. These books are like life--sometimes you don't recognize the big things that are happening because they feel like small, insignificant aspects of living, but taken on the whole...well, it's life! I enjoy Barbara Pym and am happy I have so many yet to read.

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