Excellent Women, Barbara Pym



Like most people, I never pick up a book at random. There’s often a story, sometimes convoluted, about how a book comes to be in a reader’s hands. I keep a To Read list. The list keeps getting longer because my reading can’t keep up with the recommendations – unless there’s a computer catastrophe, in which case I start again (yes, that has happened to me). What I rarely do is read a book that someone pushes into my hands especially when they say ‘this will change your life’. Instead I take tips from writers and this makes my reading habit very private. I’ve never belonged to a book club and I have have very few conversations about reading. And that’s one of the reasons why I have this blog.


In 2012 I was reading A Writer’s Life. It’s a biography by Andrew Motion on Philip Larkin. Barbara Pym’s name came up a lot towards the end because Larkin was a staunch champion of hers. At the time, her depictions of middle class London life in the 1950s was considered to be dated and she was dropped by her publisher. Larkin was influential in bringing her to the attention of the public once more and so recently, I found myself reading Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women.


For me the book opened a window into a world that existed just before I was born. The recent world war was ever-present in the memories and conversations of the characters. There was lots of austerity, drabness, evensong and bicycles. Pym’s style was wry and gently satirical but by the time I got to the end of the book I was glad rock’n’roll came along brought us the 60s


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