by Barbara Pym ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 28, 1982
This ""lost"" novel was rejected by Pym's London publisher in 1963--a rejection which was at least partially responsible for her virtual retirement until 1977. And, though Pym's wry charm and crisp detail are on lavish display, the book is indeed a problematic non-success: Pym seems more drawn to pathos than to comedy here, but she's not yet ready (as she would be years later in Quartet in Autumn) to give up happy endings for ironic bleakness. The cast is an essentially familiar one: a vicar and his womenfolk, cats, a comely but prim spinster, a blandly handsome anthropologist, the people of church bazaars and research libraries. The neighborhood is a semi-shabby section of London, where interest is high over two new, 35-ish arrivals: anthropologist Rupert Stonebird and librarian Ianthe Broome (a canon's daughter), each of whom has moved into a little house. Sophie, the vicar's wife, immediately sees Rupert as a husband for her fattish younger sister, secretary Penelope; Rupert himself soon likes the idea of being fought over by both tart Penelope and tasteful Ianthe. But Ianthe has suddenly acquired a more appealing, ""unsuitable"" suitor: handsome young John, the new assistant at the library. And, after a rather unnecessary narrative hop to Italy (a church-sponsored holiday trip), Ianthe will defy convention--and well-intentioned meddlers--to marry her devoted, too-young swain. . . while Rupert and Penelope (who's been stewing because Rupert called her ""a jolly little thing"") will be likewise headed for happily-ever-after. Neither of these cheery pairings, however, rings true: the characters' isolating, inhibiting defenses are far more convincingly drawn than their transformations. And, throughout, one has the sense of an instinct for the sad, cruel truth that's been reined-in and smoothed over. Still, there are marvelous moments, both touching and comic--especially when library and religious matters come up. (E.g., hilarious voicings of British anti-Catholicism.) So Pym fans will certainly welcome this rediscovery-for its own considerable pleasures and for the place it has in bridging the early, lighthearted work and the darker, final novels.
Pub Date: May 28, 1982
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1982
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