Skip to main content

Review: Quartet in Autumn, by Barbara Pym


Pages: 218
Original date of publication: 1977
My copy: 1977 (Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Philly Book Trader, July 2010

Quartet in Autumn centers around four retirement-aged office workers in London: Edwin, Norman, Letty, and Marcia. Edwin, a widower, is a church hopper; Norman, struggles with his anger; Letty’s an eccentric spinster whose childhood friend is set to marry a much younger clergyman; and Marcia, a survivor of a mastectomy. As the story progresses, Letty and Marcia do retire from their jobs (“something vaguely to do with filing”), an occurrence that brings the characters together more than they realize.

You might think it’s a depressing novel, but it’s bittersweet in a way. The characters are stuck in a kind of limbo; stuck in the past and remembering how things used to be, but still faced with the decisions they have to make about the future. So it’s interesting to see how each one copes with change in their lives. Pym’s novels always contain the same types of characters: office workers, churchgoers, spinsters, etc. But she manages at the same time to make her characters unique, describing them with the kinds of details that sum them up perfectly (Marcia is the type of person who allows the dust ball of a dead cat to remain on her bed).

Part of the book is based on personal experience; Barbara Pym wrote this after recovering from a mastectomy herself. So it’s interesting to kind of get in her mind and read her musings about aging and all that it entails. As the women retire, it seems as though their figurative vision improves and that they can see themselves and their situation with just a bit more objectivity than they ever could before. And then men change, too, especially when a major even happens towards the end of the book that changes the whole tone of the novel (and it’s very sudden, too; you get the feeling that Pym was very uncomfortable with the subject). I don’t think I enjoyed this quite as much as I could have (and there were other Pym novels that I’ve enjoyed more, but this one is certainly good.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Sunday Salon

What a crazy week this has been! My cousin, who’s ten, was in town for most of this past week, and since he’s high energy, it’s taken a lot of energy especially out of my mom, who also had to deal with my 87-year-old grandmother. Plus. my sister was in town for the weekend, so it’s been mostly crazy around here. All of my posts this past week have been scheduled; and I only got around to writing a bunch of outstanding reviews yesterday afternoon. It’s quieter here now that my mom has driven my sister back to New York, and I’ve spent much of today catching up on sleep and, of course, reading. Right now I’m reading one of my Virago Modern Classics: The Rising Tide, by Molly Keane (though it was originally published under her pseudonym MJ Farrell). I’m really loving it; the author really knew how to combine wonderful (sometimes exasperating) characters with a great plot. I’ve been cruising Ebay for more books by Molly Keane, since I’m living her writing style. This is easily one of the b…

Review: The Tudor Secret, by CW Gortner

Pages: 327Original date of publication:My edition: 2011 (St. Martin’s)Why I decided to read: Heard about this through Amazon.comHow I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine, December 2010Originally published as The Secret Lion, The Tudor Secret is the first in what will be a series featuring Brendan Prescott, an orphan foundling who was raised in the household of the Dudley family. In 1553, King Edward is on his deathbed, and William Cecil gives a secret mission Brendan. Soon he finds himself working as a double agent, as he attempts to discover the secret of his own birth.There ‘s a lot to like in this novel, mainly in the historical details that the author weaves into the story. He knows Tudor history like the back of his hand, and it definitely shows in this book. Because it was his first novel, however, there are some rough patches. There were a couple of plot holes that I had trouble navigating around—primarily, why would a secretive man such as Cecil entrust a seemingly nobody with this …

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…