Original date of publication: 1980
My edition: 1980 (Harper Perennial Library)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: The Philadelphia Book Trader, August 2010
Barbara Pym’s novels are comfort reads. They follow pretty much the same format and have very much the same elements; in fact, some of her characters overlap between novels. This novel is set in an Oxfordshire village in the 1970s and features a typically Pym-esque cast of characters: an academic, a rector, village doctors, spinsters, and possible love interests.
One of the main characters, Emma, is an anthropologist, and her activities reflect the overall purpose of the book, because the story is more or less an anthropological study of the people who live in the village.Some of Pym’s characters are truly funny: the rector who’s so wrapped up in searching for his mythological DMV (deserted medieval village) that he scarcely pays attention to the present; the local spinster cat lady; the ex boyfriend who accidentally stumbles back into Emma’s life. Watching her reaction to his reappearance was intriguing, but her end decision was hardly surprising.
As with all of Pym’s novels, she gently pokes fun at the inhabitants of the town and contrasts the present with events of the past. I thought that this last element could have been expanded upon a little bit more; I wanted to find out more about the aristocratic family who lived in the old manor house back in the 1920s. But in all, this is arguably one of Barbara Pym’s strongest novels, primarily because she explores and handles the complexity of human interpersonal relationships so well in her books.