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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


Murder By Death



The Better To See You My Dear

Person of Interest



Honorary participate: Mike Finn


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

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review 2018-05-21 00:36
Excellent Women - Barbara Pym,Jayne Entwistle


This book was sweet, kind of meandering for a while, and the ending left me a little confused. SPOILER [Was that a proposal or not? (hide spoiler)] I think this is the first time I've read this author. I went through a period only reading classics about 20-25 years ago and there was no Goodreads to keep track of what I read back then.

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review 2013-08-06 00:00
Excellent Women
Excellent Women - Barbara Pym ‘Excellent women’ by Barbara Pym was something fresh, I really enjoyed reading this sweet-satirical novel with crisp and clear writing. The story is about everyday-life of Mildred Lathbury (protagonist and narrator) a 30 year old spinster.
As the title suggests she is an “Excellent Women” that is to say that.. she is single, too good, too friendly, too obliging, also she is one of those who will never even think of hurting someone. Indulging herself in others problems like her own, feeling guilty for others mistake is her favorite pastime apart from going to church of course! And if at all casually she ever jokes or laughs like a normal person does, immediately she would feel ashamed of herself because she thinks she is laughing on others expense!!!!!! Obviously, often her kindness and helping nature is misused by people and she is often misjudged by all. But knowing how people takes her for granted certainly annoyed ME while reading but never once it affected her through out!
Really isn’t she one-of-a-kind after all!

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review 2013-06-01 00:00
Excellent Women - Alexander McCall Smith,Barbara Pym
Really 4.5 stars.
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review 2012-12-31 00:00
Excellent Women - Barbara Pym A little like Rocky Napier's effect on Mildred Lathbury, I was completely charmed by this lovely little book. Mildred is the narrator and one of the Excellent Women of the title - i.e. she's a 30 something unmarried lady in late 1940's London, daughter of a clergyman who fills her time being helpful to her church and really anyone else who calls upon her. This description makes it sound insipid and twee but it is nothing of the sort.

Mildred is a wry and knowing narrator with a sly wit and a good heart. She's a delight to follow along with as she navigates, with a great deal of insight, the everyday mundanities of her life. When her life is unexpectedly injected with drama by the arrival of a young married couple in the flat below hers she finds herself feeling a little less content with her quiet lot in life.

Despite the rather mundane nature of the book's plot, I found that it sucked me in and I finished it in two days. Barbara Pym moves things along never dwelling to long on one scene or another so that it feels like more is happening than it is. She has such a light writing style that you hardly feel you are reading anything of substance but the insights she rolls out so effortlessly, about society, about relationships, about people, reveal an incredible understanding of human nature. It is hard to really explain how lovely her writing is without providing a sample but at the same time there is so little fat in the narrative it is hard to find passages that aren't intertwined with the story around them. Here are a few that I marked:

"'More to Drink' said Rockingham with rather forced gaiety.... I began to see how people could need drink to cover up embarrassments, and I remembered many sticky church functions which might have been improved if somebody had happened to open a bottle of wine. But people like us had to rely on the tea-urn and I felt that some credit was due to us for doing as well as we did on that harmless stimulant."

"I could see very well what she meant, for unmarried women with no ties could very well become unwanted. I should feel it even more than Winifred, for who was there to really grieve for me when I was gone? Dora, the Malorys, one or two people in my old village, might be sorry, but I was not really first in anybody's life. I could so very easily be replaced...."

"I pulled my self and told myself to stop these ridiculous thoughts,wondering why it is that we can never stop trying to analyse the motives of people who have no personal interest in us, in the vain hope of finding that perhaps they may have just a little after all."

Looking at these quotes I see they don't really do her humor justice. She is really very funny and I laughed out loud more than a few times. Overall it was a joy and delight to read.
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