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Unlike some of the other Pym novels recently re-issued here, this gently ironic, essentially upbeat little diversion--her first published work, brought out in Britain in 1950--was never published in America before. Spinsters are at the center, of course: the middle-aged Bede sisters, Harriet and Belinda, who share a small house in a highly Pym-ian village. Harriet is showy, aggressive, ""still attractive in a fat Teutonic way"": her inner life revolves around serving boiled-chicken dinners to a succession of young curates--occasions for fretting and primping. (""Tropical flowers rioted over her plump body."") Belinda, on the other hand, is kindly, rather withdrawn, slightly frumpy, wispily romantic but self-deprecating--as she nurses her supposedly secret, undying love for the village's lazy, complacent vicar. . . an old quasi-flame long married (not very happily, it seems) to the stingy Agatha. And both ladies will prefer to remain true to their wistful, impossible passions, turning down the unlikely marriage proposals that happen along through the novel's episodic course: Harriet is semi-horrified when a slightly rakish librarian (he winks and drinks) named Mold concludes a visit with a wedding plea; later, when the vicar's wife is eagerly expecting a similar invitation from the boring Bishop of Mbawawa (who presents a most odd slide-show on African life), it turns out that Belinda has caught the Bishop's fancy--an unwelcome turn-of-events, but one that gives Belinda a new slant on Agatha. (""She felt that she could almost love Agatha as a sister now. . . . To think of Agatha as pathetic was something so new that Belinda had to sit down on a chair in the hall, quite overcome by the sensation."") So, finally, after the current curate thoroughly upsets Harriet by getting married (""She is taller than he is. . . . She's rather plain, too, isn't she? Why doesn't she use lipstick?""), everything returns more or less to the safe, wishful status quo. Without the high comedy of prime Pym satire or the pathos of late Pyro--but a nice blend of light and sharp, pitch-perfect when it comes to charity concerts, genteel put-downs, and serene self-deceptions.

Pub Date: July 21st, 1983
ISBN: 1559212640
Publisher: Dutton