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text 2019-01-11 19:34
Proposed buddy read
Excellent Women - Barbara Pym

Themis-Athena, Murder By Death & I are planning a Buddy Read of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women to tentatively begin on Friday, January 25.

 

Plot summary: 

 

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym's richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those "excellent women," the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors--anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door--the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

 

Barbara Pym was born in 1913 and died of breast cancer in 1980 and Excellent Women was originally published in 1952.

 

According to Wikipedia:

 

"several strong themes link the works in the Pym canon, which are more notable for their style and characterisation than for their plots. A superficial reading gives the impression that they are sketches of village or suburban life, and comedies of manners, studying the social activities connected with the Anglican church (Anglo-Catholic parishes in particular.) (Pym attended several churches during her lifetime, including St Michael and All Angels, Barnes, where she served on the Parish Church Council.)

 

Pym closely examines many aspects of women's and men's relations, including unrequited feelings of women for men, based on her own experience. Pym was also one of the first popular novelists to write sympathetically about unambiguously gay characters (most notably in A Glass of Blessings).  She portrayed the layers of community and figures in the church seen through church functions. The dialogue is often deeply ironic. A tragic undercurrent runs through some of the later novels, especially Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died."

 

In 2013, The Telegraph published an interesting piece for Pym's centenary, which can be found here.

 

If any of this sounds interesting, feel free to join us!

 

Participants (so far):

 

Moonlight Reader

Themis-Athena

Murder By Death

BrokenTune

Lillelara

The Better To See You My Dear

Person of Interest

Peregrinations

 

Honorary participate: Mike Finn

 

Let's use "pymalong" and "excellent women" to tag our posts!

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review 2019-01-09 17:23
Welcome to the L'Engleverse: The Young Unicorns
The Young Unicorns - Madeleine L'Engle

A few years ago I started a Madeleine L'Engle project. I read some of her Chronos/Kairos series (which starts with A Wrinkle in Time and focuses on the Murry family) and then I asked for the Austin series for Christmas. I read through this book - so this is a reread for me.

 

The Young Unicorns is set in New York City, and is told from the perspective of a young man, Josiah Davidson, who has become close to the Austin's since their move away from the small town where their house, Thornhill, is located.

 

L'Engles books are difficult to describe and difficult to pigeonhole. There are generally strong religious themes, as well as elements of sci fi. Because they were, typically, written for a YA audience, some of the elements haven't worn well and seem extremely dated. In this book, that's true of both the central element of science - something that L'Engle refers to as a "Micro-Ray," which is basically a laser, and, also, the presence of the least threatening "gang" in the history of literature, the Alphabats, who hang around a church.

 

However, even though those elements of the story are dated, and even laughable at times, I enjoyed The Young Unicorns. I think that L'Engle writes families better than anyone - she perfectly captures the warmth and humanity of a family, but doesn't leave out the conflict. If I had to choose a fictional family to adopt, it would either be a L'Engle family - the Austins and the Murrys are both delightful, or the Weasleys, from Harry Potter. 

 

Reading The Young Unicorns reminded me why I love her books, flawed though they are - and inspired me to restart, and this time complete, my L'Engle project.

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review 2019-01-06 23:54
The Bachelor by Stella Gibbons
The Bachelor - Stella Gibbons

I had planned to read this one for a 1944 club on my blog but ran out of time. This is my second Gibbons, and I have not yet read her most celebrated work Cold Comfort Farm - the first one I read was called Nightingale Wood, which I read a couple of years ago.

I think I liked this one a tiny bit better than Nightingale Wood, although it has some of the same issues that I stumbled on in that one. It's set during WWII, so the characters are on the homefront during the active fighting, but they scarcely seem to notice that there is a war on. There is some talk about the blackout, and a bit during a barrage, and a couple of the characters have war work that they are engaged in, but for the most part the three main character's lives go on much as they do during peacetime. I'm not sure if this is an accurate depiction of the way that money can smooth all of the rough edges off the world, even during WWII, or if it is a bit of wishful thinking on the part of Gibbons. I tend to think the latter.

It is a bit of a romance, although not in the genre sense, with the characters coupling off all over the place. My issue with The Bachelor is that I found only one of the pairings even remotely appealing or plausible. Gibbons writes flawed characters, which isn't a problem for me, but also writes characters who need a swift kick in the ass. The only characters I particularly liked were Betty and Alicia, and I actively disliked Vartouhi and Constance and found them unconvincing. Richard and Kenneth (the titular bachelor, btw) were pleasant enough, if a bit wet.

The writing is a pleasure to read, however, and the descriptions of Sunglade, the home where most of the "action" takes place, are beautiful. I will definitely read more Gibbons, because no matter my issues with her novels, they are worth reading.
 

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review 2015-09-12 06:28
Dear Dead Women
Dear Dead Women - Edna W. Underwood

A nice little book of strange stories primarily of a melancholy nature. Many of the longer stories reminded me of an earthbound Clark Ashton Smith. There is a great deal about regret here but also some pure whimsy. The centerpiece, which appears at the end of the book (think about that for a second), is The Orchid of Asia which could easily have appeared in Weird Tales. Tartarus calls it a novella but it is a slim read for a novella.

The introduction by the editor, S.T. Joshi, seems a bit dashed off, but in a few pages is enlightening about the late Ms. Underwood who in her time was a brilliant multilingual translator and writer. This little volume collects all her "weird" fiction for the first time. It contains a bibliography of Underwood's known published works, of all things.

A pleasant diversion, or entertainment if you will, once again beautifully produced by Tartarus Press with, of course, a lovely wood cut of an orchid on the dust jacket.

 

I'm quite fond of this little book.

 

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review 2014-03-12 03:20
Drinking with Dead Women Writers
Drinking with Dead Women Writers (Drinking with Dead Writers) - Elaine Ambrose,A.K. Turner Two authors take turns writing short stories about different famous women authors who have passed on to the other side. The living author imagines what the conversation ,at a bar with wine, would sound like. They pretend to interview Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen, Ann Rynd, and many more. The idea of having a conversation with a favorite who is dead has potential. Unfortunately each story sounds the same as the last. Each story they drink wine, the deceased author hope that her family got rid of the letter she wrote, and ends after the deceased author is done complaining. I feel the living authors could have explored so much more, maybe about the world now, or ask how being dead was treating them.
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