100. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym (1952)

This book ticks a lot of boxes for me. Post-War England, check. Small-town setting, check. Acerbic spinster heroine, check. Rather camp ecclesiastical milieu replete with jumble sales, check. In lesser hands Excellent Women would just have been an entertaining bit of proto Chick-lit/Aga-saga. But with Pym, it’s not about the story or even particularly the characters – it’s about the acuteness of her observations and the exquisitely comic language in which she delivers them. It’s hard to pin down exactly what she does, and if I tried to do so I’d probably spoil it for myself. Incidentally, I was introduced to her work by a character who could have been straight out of one of Pym’s novels, the glamorous, eccentric Robert Tewdwr Moss, with whom I went to university.

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2 Comments

Filed under My top 100 novels

2 responses to “100. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym (1952)

  1. David Benedict

    Interestingly, I love this novel for none of the reason you do. It’s thrillingly understated: as you read it you realise there’s heart-wrenching passion here below the serene surface. The passion is fully felt by the heroine but she cannot bear to bring it out into the open thus Pym’s withholding of it exactly mirrors her heroine’s feelings. As a reader you follow the hints and feel the subtext. (Which is a major reason why gay readers so sympathise with it).

  2. I agree with all of that. What hooked me and reeled me in was the comedy, as with all of her best books, but they really are very moving in that elusive, subtle way she has.

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