Book review: Excellent Women

The time is 5.10pm here in Wellington, NZ.
Sometimes the quotes on the front of a book can be immediately heartening. Excellent Women (an encouraging enough title!) was referred to as 'endearing' and 'amusing', which, when judging by the cover, does put you in a positive frame of mind.

I then noted that the quote was from the person who'd written the introduction to the book, rather than from any kind of critique, but decided to forge cheerily ahead anyway.

This kind of ambitiously positive attitude is just the sort sported by the heroine of Barbara Pym's novel it turns out. Mildred Lathbury (what a wonderfully British name) is an excellent woman, self-sufficient and independent, relishing spinsterhood in all its joys.

Her quiet life is thrown into somewhat of a disarray by the arrival of a tempestuous, squabbling couple into the downstairs flat of her previously peaceful home. The husband appears to be attempting to charm her. The wife seems to want to confess all sins to her. Mildred would just like to make sure that the church bazaar is going to run smoothly.

Apparently Pym's style is frequently compared to Jane Austen - and now that I am finally reading my first (!) Austen I can see how this fits. It also reminded me a little of Stella Gibbon's Cold Comfort Farm.

This book is filled with delicate humour and superb characterisation. I did find the pace rather slow, not so much a rollicking night out with salacious details, but rather more unwinding like a polite garden party peppered with snatches of shadowy gossip. And sometimes that can be just what you're in the mood for!

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. Recommended as a very light read.
Published in 1952. Set in post-WWII London.
#47 from 'The List'

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