QUARTET IN AUTUMN by Barbara Pym
Kirkus Star

QUARTET IN AUTUMN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Pym, a veteran novelist recently ""rediscovered"" in her native England, writes with chilled compassion about lonely, outwardly nondescript, oddly special and brave people. Her ""quartet in autumn"" is London at its sad drabbest--four unskilled clerks on the verge of compulsory retirement who exchange daily chat in their communal office but keep their private lives, such as they are, private. Kind, pompous Edwin, a widower (walking by a rack of girlie magazines, he ""supposed that his wife Phyllis had once had breasts but he could not remember that they had been at all like this""), has thrown himself into the life of the Church--he reads the Church Times, dotes on local clergy, collects chapels. Letty, trim and neat and intent on self-education, finds herself absorbed in the practical matter of where to live the rest of her life now that her intended retirement companion has abandoned her and her apartment building has gone multi-racial: ""How had it happened that she, an English woman born in Malvern in 1914 of middle-class English parents, should find herself in a room in London surrounded by enthusiastic, shouting, hymn-singing Nigerians?"" And spry, seedy Norman plans trips that never materialize, keeping company with a brother-in-law he loathes. These three are sad yet anything but pathetic; only birdlike Marcia, quite round the bend to begin with and now going off the deep end after a mastectomy, is a cool study in pathos: paranoid, obsessive, starving in well-stocked (row upon row of canned foods) squalor. Pyro economically cuts from scene to scene: a hollow retirement party, an uncomfortable reunion, individual difficult Christmases, Marcia's funeral--as three of the four make hesitant, awkward attempts at going beyond mere acquaintanceship. Above all, behind the mildly satiric tone, Pym never loses respect for these put-upon people--more unlucky than unhappy--and, as a result, neither do we. Terribly brisk, but very affecting.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1978
ISBN: 1850895538
Publisher: Dutton