24 March 2014

A Glass of Blessings, by Barbara Pym

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mentioned this as the best book she'd read in 2013, and that was enough to make me want to read it. And I did not regret it. Although it petered out a bit towards the end, I mostly loved every minute. Smart, subtle, and wonderfully funny, with a gently ironic insight into human psychology reminiscent of Austen or Flaubert ("That anyone could doubt my capacity to love! But strangely enough my immediate thought was that I could not bear to go home by bus."). Pym is consistently described as masterfully illustrating the "small" lives of somewhat provincial middle-class women, and indeed, what she lacks in scale she makes up for in depth. It is astonishing, how compelling she makes the vague boredom and somewhat mundane hopes of these characters. There is a delicious balance of primness and subversion -- the wicked humor of Dorothy Parker or Muriel Spark, but never quite so blatant. Although Alexander McCall Smith, in a lovely piece on Pym, says that men are a main focal point, I rather think this novel is more about female friendships and community. Most intriguing to me, actually, is that it's very much about being a member of a church, less in spiritual terms than in social ones, something one rarely sees portrayed in a thoughtful way.
Overall, a delightful book. I'm very much looking forward to reading more of her novels.

No comments: