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Review: Some Tame Gazelle, by Barbara Pym

Pages: 252

Original date of publication: 1950

My edition: 1984 (Perennial)

Why I decided to read: I’m on a quest to read all of Pym’s novels

How I acquired my copy: secondhand bookstore near my office, November 2010

Some Tame Gazelle was Barbara Pym’s first novel. Her writing style is rather quaint and old-fashioned, which is probably why her books fell out of fashion, but it’s the quaintness that makes this novel so good. Some Tame Gazelle is less polished than some of Pym’s later novels (such as Excellent Women or Jane and Prudence), but it shares some of the same themes.

This one is set in a tiny village and focuses on the life of two spinsters in late middle age, Harriet and Belinda Bede. There’s a new, young curate in the village for whom Harriet develops a fondness; her sister has an unrequited love for the vicar, whose wife doesn’t love him. Added to this is a pompous Archdeacon and an Italian count who frequently proposes marriage to Harriet. As I’ve said, this book isn’t quite as refined as some of Pym’s later books, but you can see hints of what’s to come. Pym has a wicked sense of humor when talking about her characters, poking fun at them in a very backhanded kind of way.

Pym has frequently been described as a 20th-century Jane Austen, and it’s easy to see where the comparison comes from. Pym had a way of getting to the heart of her characters in describing them in just a few sentences. I wish that Barbara Pym’s novels would stop coming into print and then back out, because she’s such a timeless, classic author. There’s not much “action in her novels, and sometimes she goes overboard with the literary quotes and references, but her novels are a smashing good read—every one of them, at least, that I’ve read.


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