Book report #26 (2022)

Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym. Pub 1952

I heard about Barbara Pym on a most excellent podcast that I listen to called Backlisted https://www.backlisted.fm/ from which readers are directed to excellent books and authors who are under-appreciated or overlooked and deemed worthy of praise and an overdue audience. With one description being a kind of 1950’s Austen, it seemed worth a look. I chose this book for no other reason than that it was in stock and available.

Briefly, this is the story of a year in the life of Mildred Lathbury, an “excellent woman” which seems to mean that she is a not-old-but-not-young unmarried woman who lives on her own and has a strong but not devout relationship to the Anglican church. Throughout the year, she gets to know the couple that moves into her building and sees them through a separation and reconciliation; is a witness and intermediary to the engagement and then estrangement of the local vicar and a less-than-excellent woman; and has several non-dates and a very boring holiday with a school friend. If I’m making it sound like nothing much happens, you are not mistaken – nothing much happens. So, I’m unclear as to what the point of the book is, as nothing much happens to or for the main character other than her reluctant involvement with the relationships of those around her.

The writing is excellent, which is what makes continuing to the end somewhat worthwhile, but truly quite unsatisfying to get to the end and feel, “that’s it?” There aren’t even any sufficiently pithy or funny quotes to share, which is also disappointing – the writing is good but not great, the story is good but unsatisfying, and the characters are fine but uninteresting. On the whole, it’s like a good cup of tea that has gone a bit cold – you finish it, but you don’t enjoy the last few sips.

Fate: with likely no surprise, this is in the charity pile.

8 – a book with a female author
25 – a new author to me

The lack of enjoyment of the book was made worse after the fact by seeing how few categories it fills. It is not bad enough to call it drivel, and I’d hate to waste my wild card with such a tepid entry, so it may end up surplus to requirements, which is a fitting reflection of the titular excellent women.

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