Saturday, 7 November 2009

Anyone for Pyms?



I have discussed Barbara Pym and the funky new Virago Modern Classics editions of her work in a previous post. Since then I have accumulated two more titles, Excellent Women and A Glass of Blessings (the latter forthcoming in December), which Virago generously sent me. I now have a lovely little stockpile of Pym novels, which excites me as I have the feeling that I am going to love them and delight in Pym's ironic tone. What does concern me, however, is that I don't know where to start; I fully intended to read Excellent Women during November as I have heard that this is her best book but do I really want to start with the best? Isn't it more enjoyable to build up to the best novel in an author's canon and start with her first novel, Some Tame Gazelle, instead?

Please help! I desperately want to read one novel at least from the those above this month and value your input. This doesn't have to be based on personal experience, if you have none, but from the synopses below please vote which one you would read if given the choice.

Jane and Prudence: If Prudence Bates and Jane Cleveland seem an unlikely pair to be walking together at a reunion of old students in Oxford, neither of them is aware of it. Born a decade apart, their pupil and tutor relationship has circumscribed their lives and cemented their friendship.

No Fond Return of Love: Dulcie Mainwearing is always helping others, but never looks out for herself - especially in the realm of love. Her friend Viola is besotted by the alluring Dr Aylwin Forbes, so surely it isn't prying if Dulcie helps things along? Aylwin, however, is smitten by Dulcie's pretty young niece. And perhaps Dulcie herself, however ridiculous it may be, is falling, just a little, for Aylwin. Once life's little humiliations are played out, maybe love will be returned, and fondly, after all...

Some Tame Gazelle: 'It was odd that Harriet should always have been so fond of curates. They were so immature and always made the same kind of conversation. Now the Archdeacon was altogether different ...' Together yet alone, the Misses Bede occupy the central crossroads of parish life. Harriet, plump, elegant and jolly, likes nothing better than to make a fuss of new curates, secure in the knowledge that elderly Italian Count Ricardo Bianco will propose to her yet again this year. Belinda, meanwhile has harboured sober feelings of devotion towards Archdeacon Hochleve for thirty years. Then into their quiet, comfortable lives comes a famous librarian, Nathaniel Mold, and a bishop from Africa, Theodore Grote - who each take to calling on the sisters for rather more unsettling reasons.

Excellent Women: Mildred Lathbury is one of those 'excellent women' who is often taken for granted. She is a godsend, 'capable of dealing with most of the stock situations of life - birth, marriage, death, the successful jumble sales, the garden fete spoilt by bad weather'. As such, she often gets herself embroiled in other people's lives - especially those of her glamorous new neighbours, the Napiers, whose marriage seems to be on the rocks. One cannot take sides in these matters, though it is tricky, especially as Mildred, teetering on the edge of spinsterhood, has a soft spot for dashing young Rockingham Napier. This is Barbara Pym's world at its funniest and most touching.

A Glass of Blessings: Wilmet Forsyth is well dressed, well looked after, suitably husbanded, good looking and fairly young - but very bored. Her husband Rodney, a handsome army major, is slightly balder and fatter than he once was. Wilmet would like to think she has changed rather less. Her interest wanders to the nearby Anglo-catholic church, where at last she can neglect her comfortable household in the more serious-minded company of three unmarried priests, and, of course, Piers Longridge, a man of an unfathomably different character altogether.


What do you think? I'm at a loss and may resort to playing eeny meeny miny mo without your assistance... Which -if any- are you most intrigued by and does Barbara Pym appeal to you as a writer?


25 comments:

wendy said...

I think you should start with Some Tame Gazelle. I enjoyed them all.

fleurfisher said...

There's something to be said for reading chronologically, but it can be disappointing if your first encounter with an author is before she is at the height of her powers. I could be tempted to read in the order that Viorago reissued. Is there some reasoning behind it, or is it simply the order that they obtained the rights I wonder?

anothercookiecrumbles said...

Who doesn't like Pimms.... :) (Sorry, excuse the poor poor pun!)

I've faced the dilemma quite a few times of not starting with an author's so-called "best book". But, sometimes I feel it's the easiest place to start.

I haven't read anything by her, so unfortunately, I can't be of any help. Sorry.

farmlanebooks said...

I haven't read any, but I plan to read Quartet in Autumn soon, otherwise I agree with the chronological order suggestion. I hope that you enjoy them!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Wendy, thanks for commenting. I think I probably will start with Some Tame Gazelle. Glad to hear that you enjoyed them all - that's promising!

Jane, I'm not sure whether there is any reasoning behind it or not; it is most curious. I think I may read them chronologically as I've heard good things about Some Tame Gazelle. I am tempted to read them in the order they were re-issued/I acquired them but we shall see...

anothercookie, I will excuse your pun if you excuse mine (the title)?! Thanks for your input. I may read one of her books first before contemplating the best - I don't want her to peak for me too early.

Jackie, I think chronologically is the way forward although I don't usually do that with other authors. I look forward to your thoughts on Quartet in Autumn.

Steph said...

Well, if you don't want to start with Pym's best, then I would certainly say No Fond Return of Love is a safe bet. I read it earlier this year, and you can read my take here. I was all excited because Pym is so often touted as a more modern Jane Austen, and well, perhaps my expectations were too high...

That said, I did decide I'd like to read more Pym in the future, so even though I though NFROL was kind of silly, it wasn't a complete wash. I haven't read Excellent Women yet, which I have also heard is her best, so if it really is very good, then I might feel disappointed starting with that only to read NFROL.

Mrs. B. said...

I've only read 3 Pyms and the first one is still my favourite, Excellent Women.

Mrs. B. said...

I've only read 3 Pyms and the first one is still my favourite, Excellent Women.

Ellen said...

I've read them all and Excellent Women and Quartet in Autumn are my faves - not that any of them are bad! I don't think Pym ever wrote a bad book.

Ellen said...

I've read them all and Excellent Women and Quartet in Autumn are my faves - not that any of them are bad! I don't think Pym ever wrote a bad book.

verity said...

I have this lovely collection too and am looking forward to writing about them on VVV. Honestly you can't go wrong with Pym. But I think I'd start with Some Tame Gazele.

Paperback Reader said...

Steph, sorry to hear that you found No Fond Return of Love silly; I've been worried at times that I would think likewise. The Jane Austen comparison is a lot to live up to. I am definitely persuaded not to begin with her best.

Mrs B., I find that most people who have read Excellent Women consider it their favourite although Some Tame Gazelle is also popular.

Hi Ellen, thanks for commenting. High praise! I hope that I enjoy them all.

Verity, that's the one I am leaning towards...

savidgereads said...

I havent read any Pym so I cant really dish out any advice. my only advoce would be save the best till last (who sang that song?) as I started Daphne with Rebecca and now though all her stuff is brilliant nothing is quite as good. Reading J Inn second didnt help and so I am leaving My Cousin Rachel until last.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, I'm the same with Du Maurier; I know that everything I read now will pale in comparison to Rebecca.

Darlene said...

Oh, Oh...don't know if I'm too late to cast my vote but I LOVED No Fond Return of Love! It was quite funny in parts.

Paperback Reader said...

Glad to hear it, Darlene! I'm looking forward to reading it and making up my own mind. For the time-being I think I will start with Some Tame Gazelle and think I'll be able to start it within a week.

Thomas said...

I have read a few Pym and I say: go with Some Tame Gazelle! I just read it this summer and loved it. Plus the tidiness of starting with number 1 is soooo appealing don't you think?

Paperback Reader said...

Thomas, you have thoroughly convinced me! The obsessive-compulsive in me is too tempted by reading them chronologically.

Nan said...

I would say, Jane and Prudence! Here is my book report which may help to convince you :<)

http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2007/10/book-reportjane-and-prudence.html

Sophie said...

Oh, I am so excited to hear what you think of Barbara Pym! As I mentioned on my blog, I accidently started with her first novel, and I found it a great introduction -- so I whole-heartedly endorse your intention to begin with Some Tame Gazelle! I read Excellent Women next, which is indeed wonderful. I've just finished Crampton Hodnet -- not in the new reissues, as yet -- which I loved, so am now looking forward to reading some more.

Paperback Reader said...

Thanks for the link to your review, Nan; I have a feeling that I am going to love Jane & Prudence!

Sophie, I think it was providential starting where you did and I think I should intentionally begin there too. I look forward to your future thoughts (although if I start chronologically then I am bound to proceed that way).

minervamouse said...

This may be very late but the first Barbara Pym that I read was Excellent Women and it got me so hooked that I bought all the others available then (this was the early 80's I think).
Can't remember why I picked it up but I suspect that it may well have had something to do with Susan Hill's book reviews in a magazine at the time.
Do hope you enjoy them - I have just fished my copies out from the back of the bookshelves to re-read very soon!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi minervamouse, thanks for commenting! I hope I am similarly hooked by them -whichever title I read first- and I hope you enjoy rereading them. I'm looking forward to my first Pym book.

Danielle said...

It looks like you've already got lots of help in choosing a book. I've only read Excellent Women, which is...excellent of course. I've got several Pyms, but most of mine are plain and second hand. I like these new Viragos. Enjoy whichever you end up choosing! (By the way Jane and Prudence is the one I had planned to read...next...whenever next turns out to be).

Paperback Reader said...

Danielle, everyone mentions the 'excellence' of Excellent Women so I am very much looking forward to reading that next but first up is Some Tame Gazelle. Jane & Prudence was the first one I obtained :). The covers are delightful.