2016: 66. - 67. Two by Pym


“It was a wet Sunday afternoon in North Oxford at the beginning of October.”

Crampton Hodnet, Barbara Pym

Having exhausted my library’s supply of Thirkell’s, and continuing my obsession with mid-20th century Britain, I have turned to Barbara Pym.  I previously read her Some Tame Gazelles, and liked it, so I grabbed this one, based on it’s equally ridiculous title. (BTW, it’s the name of a made-up town).  Pym isn’t Thirkell - she is considered a real writer,  she is definitely sharper and more critical than Thirkell’s Tory fantasies.  This book, however, turns out to be an early novel she abandoned, that was published after her death.  So it’s not the true Pym experience, just fledgling Pym.  The introduction tried to tell me it was hilariously funny, but I didn’t laugh.  I liked the book, thought it was witty, but I rarely laugh out loud and books, and this certainly didn’t do it.

It’s about a woman living in South Oxford who is the companion to a crotchety old bird (I forget everyone’s names) like someone out of Christie.  A handsome curate comes to live with them, and there are romantic flutters, controveries about church business, and it all ends, not romantically happily like Thirkell, but realistically as such things would.  Which is to say, after a brief flutter things basically end up as they started.  As I said, I enjoyed it, because I like books like this, but I think if you were to pick up Pym, I’d suggest the second book I read instead, because I think it’s both better written, and more her typical stuff.


“Jane and Prudence were walking in their college garden before dinner.”

Jane and Prudence, Barbara Pym 

There is a lot more going on in Jane and Prudence. Jane is a married vicar’s wife, Prudence is her college friend, a single lady about town.  Jane has moved to a new vicarage, Prudence starts a new love affair, and things go from there (in fact, the companion plot line from Crampton Hodnet is recycled here, with slightly different outcomes).  What is great about the book is Pym’s unsparing views of her characters - they are shown, warts and all, and it’s clear that though we feel affection for them, they are also (like all humans) slightly ridiculous.  The prose is acid, the story is satisfying, and I think that, again, if you are up for slice of life novels of British upper class social life, you will dig this.  Just don’t expect Miss Buncle’s Book like softness - this one comes with a slice of lemon.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017