Mildred Lathbury is one of those 'excellent women' who is often taken for granted. She is a godsend, 'capable of dealing with most of the stock situations of life - birth, marriage, death, the successful jumble sales, the garden fete spoilt by bad weather'. As such, she often gets herself embroiled in other people's lives - especially those of her glamorous new neighbours, the Napiers, whose marriage seems to be on the rocks.
One cannot take sides in these matters, though it is tricky, especially as Mildred, teetering on the edge of spinsterhood, has a soft spot for dashing young Rockingham Napier. This is Barbara Pym's world at its funniest and most touching.
©1952 Barbara Pym (P)2011 Hachette Digital
I downloaded this because I'd been meaning to read Barbara Pym for years, and wanted something frothy after a heavy bout of Dickens.
It ticked all my boxes. I love a sense of place, and especially when the place is London. A sense of time, especially the era around the world wars, and this is set in the fifties, when rationing was still in force. Everything's a bit grim, as people struggle to get their lives back on track. It also ticked the 'narrator with a sly wit' box, and the 'not too oppressively long' box.
Digging around on the internet, I discovered that Barbara Pym had six published novels, but when she sent a manuscript to her publisher in 1963 it was rejected as being 'out of step with the times'. This led her to despair until 1977, when she was nominated as the most underrated writer of the 20th century by both Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil. A novel was then accepted which was nominated for the Booker Prize that year, and more works followed to critical acclaim, some published posthumously, as she died in 1980.
Her work is popular and timeless, and some consider this her best book. Mostly about the everyday lives of very ordinary people, the wit and comic observations sparkle, and her turn of phrase often had me smiling, and occasionally laughing out loud.
I loved this book, and feel I have discovered an author whose works I will read again and again. Some have called Pym 'a modern day Jane Austen' and I think that's about right. I'm not surprised to learn that there exists a Barbara Pym Society of North America - I can quite see how her Englishness would be speak to literary anglophiles. Sadly, there are only three of Pym's novels on the Audible list, so I may have to buy paper copies of the rest.
Finally, the lady who reads this (Jonathan Keeble reads the intro) has fantastic diction - I didn't have to go back and re-listen once, which is a first.
The novel itself is fine- but as an audio-book it doesn't really tick all the boxes.
Firstly it has to be pointed out that it is NOT (as described) narrated by Jonathan Keeble- he reads the introduction by Alexander Maccoll Smith- but from there on Geri Halligan (sp?) takes over.
She reads it much better than I could have done- but I'm afraid she's not really out of the top-drawer of narrators- she falls down badly on the male voices, which tend to be nasal, same-ish and lacking in the necessary charm.
I also felt that a posher, more clipped voice would have suited the middle-class post-war Pym world better- Another narrator (without turning it into a Brief Encounter parody) might have captured the 'feel' of the period better.
As others have pointed out, this is narrated by Gerri Halligan, not Jonathan Keeble, and she does a really excellent job.
Barbara Pym is someone, I imagine, that you either love or don't really understand ... Her observation is brilliant, and the gentle but continuous humour flows primarily from this. I read a review which pointed out that few if any other authors manage this without making the characters themselves comedic, whereas Pym's are all completely believable.
Definitely recommended if you appreciate quiet, thoughtful, humour.
Good narration that starts out at a gentle pace, but I started to see the dry humour of a put upon excellent woman too polite to speak her mind and reluctant to say no though resentful of people's presumptuous attitude. A gentle read of a woman's observations. I might try another if it's not ridiculously expensive or find an alternative audiobook service.
From London, now living in France.
Barbara Pym is apparently like Marmite - you either love or hate her. I didn't feel this strongly but enjoyed the novel immensely. I felt frustrated sometimes with the characters but not the characterisations. There is a dusting of irony in this novel which I found clever and also sometimes disturbing. This is what one would call an observational novel about a world that women couldn't imagine occupying now but which was until recently the norm for many.
An avid reader; retired English teacher, so somewhat pedantic about mis-pronounciations in readings!
The narrator, Jonathan Keeble was exactly right for this book - his tone, and accent created the right setting for the story, which is firmly in its period.
I read the novel some years ago; it was wonderful to enjoy it from a different perspective.
Inappropriate to select a favourite, as the main protagonist took centre stage.
It would make a terrible film, as there is insufficient action.
Lovers of Jane Austen who have not discovered Barbara Pym should not hesitate to give her a try - her subtlety of characterisation is a delight.
I listened to this audio book as I belong to a Book Club and was required to; otherwise I would have turned the player off after the first three paragraphs. I have never been so bored by a novel by any author before I was compelled to listen to this.
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