Friday, February 19, 2010

An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym



9. An Unsuitable Attachment
by Barbara Pym
fiction, 1982 (published posthumously - submitted to twenty publishers, beginning in 1963 and refused)
finished, 2/11/10


(A photo from the internet of my edition of the book because my son is borrowing my camera.)

When I open the pages of a Barbara Pym book, I enter one of my favorite literary worlds. I let out a quiet sigh, and feel I am home. Her writing calms and relaxes me, and I finish the books refreshed.

In An Unsuitable Attachment we meet a new man in the parish, Rupert Stonebird, and pretty much the whole book is absorbed with which of two women this anthropologist will marry. Will it be the vicar's wife's sister, Penelope, or will it be Ianthe, the daughter of a late canon, who left her enough money to set up her own house, and is Rupert's neighbor. And are either of them interested in marrying him? We meet various other characters who interact and interfere in one another's lives. Pym's people are not always stellar individuals. They whine, they gossip, they annoy one another and us. But they are so real, so human that we like them anyway. There is Ianthe's boss who 'covets' her furniture. There is the local vet, and his sister who is passionate about cats.

All of these people, and a few others embark on a trip to Rome, where things happen, but nothing startling. They happen in the same quiet way they happen back home in early-1960s London.

Perhaps this all sounds pretty dull. There isn't any violence, there are no dark family secrets. It certainly isn't 'current.' There is simply a gentle story told as only Barbara Pym could, with wit and irony, and with affection for her characters. Not dull at all for this reader, but endlessly interesting and restful.

Another book report on Barbara Pym at Letters from a Hill Farm here.

26 comments:

  1. Thank you for the concise summary of this book. Another one to order, as she is one of my very favorites. Isn't it funny how she always seems to have an anthropologist as a character in her novels?

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  2. Yeah, it was 'concise' wasn't it, Julie! Anthropologists, cats, Anglican clergy, single women - they are definitely 'her' characters. Even the cat in this one is a strong personality. :<)

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  3. I am beginning to form an attachment to and preference for quiet books and it is one reason I enjoyed the one Pym I read. It doesn't sound dull for sure and I have added it to my tbr list. I wonder why it was refused for publication while she was alive.

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  4. Book Psmith, it was refused for just that reason - too dull, too ordinary for the times. From wikipedia:

    'According to some accounts, the reason was its being "out of step with the racier literary climate of the sixties" ; others say Cape and others viewed it as commercially unviable, even when endorsed by Philip Larkin'

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  5. I've realized that not all books need to have violence or be fast paced in order to get my attention. This sounds like a great read.

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  6. Now in some writer's hands I could see this would be dull, but it is the kind of thing she does beautifully. I always think that her books would be spoiled if too much happened as you would miss the wonderful, subtle details. And i must say that your edition is so much prettier than my own 1870a paperback.

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  7. Sounds good to me! I like the idea of the cat, too.

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  8. Good morning Nan, it does not sound dull at all! It reminds me of the "Miss Read" books; have you ever come across them? My mother-in-law has sent me three, "Village School", "Village Diary" and "Storm in the Village", and they could be counted among quiet books as well, I guess. Very relaxing!

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  9. This one looks good to me. It's been years since I read anything by Barbara Pym - thanks for reminding me of her books.

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  10. I discovered Pym through Quartet in Autumn. Like Book Psmith, I seem to be enjoying 'quiet' books more and more lately. This sounds like a good one, but Excellent Women will be next.... it's waiting on the shelf.

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  11. Nan,

    This was a lovely and gentle review. I zipped right over to Amazon & bought two of her books.

    I look forward to my visit to Pym's world.

    Janell

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  12. Staci, I actually give better attention to slower, quieter books.

    fleurfisher, you are so right. What a gift she had.

    Jenclair, the cat's name is Faustina!

    Librarian, yes! I love Miss Read. I first read them maybe twenty years ago, and went right through both series. I've recently begun reading them again. I've written book reports on the first three fairacre books here on the blog.

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2009/01/village-school-by-miss-read.html

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2009/01/village-diary-by-miss-read.html

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2009/02/storm-in-village-by-miss-read.html

    And if you go over to Book Psmith's blog, she is reading a lot of Miss Read:

    http://bookpsmith.blogspot.com/

    Books Please, I had read only Excellent Women years ago, then Jane and Prudence in 2007, and now this one. I just love her. I have the biography by Hazel Holt waiting for me.

    Oh, JoAnn, I just love EW. Did you read Robin's review of Quartet in Autumn? I haven't read that one yet.

    http://afondnessforreading.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/quartet-in-autumn/

    Janell, I can't tell you what that means to me. I so hope you like the books you bought.

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  13. I've just tried (by copying and pasting) some of the page links I gave and they don't come up. Librarian, if you are really interested, you could go to the sidebar and look under book reports 2009 and you'll find the Miss Read books. And JoAnn, you can just go to Robin's blog and do a search for Quartet in Autumn.

    I know I really should learn that clickable thing with links, but I've had it explained to me a few times and my brain just can't figure out the little arrows, etc. to make it happen. So sorry.

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  14. I've just tried (by copying and pasting) some of the page links I gave and they don't come up. Librarian, if you are really interested, you could go to the sidebar and look under book reports 2009 and you'll find the Miss Read books. And JoAnn, you can just go to Robin's blog and do a search for Quartet in Autumn.

    I know I really should learn that clickable thing with links, but I've had it explained to me a few times and my brain just can't figure out the little arrows, etc. to make it happen. So sorry.

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  15. I love Pym too, and I know you'll enjoy the biography. What could be better than Barbara Pym *and* Hazel Holt? I remember there are some wonderful snippets from her diary entries - observations that might come up later in her books.

    I struggle with the clickable links in comments too - I know how to do it, but sometimes it doesn't work, so now I always check it before I post, which can be very long-winded :)

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  16. Geranium Cat, I look forward to it. Thanks for your support about the links thing. :<)

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  17. This is an author I have not read, Nan. Is there one book that I should start with or just dive right in? I'm particularly drawn to a cat with a strong personality!

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  18. I just finished reading a biographical work about Pym and then launched straight into Excellent Women. The more I read Pym the more I like her.

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  19. This is a great review of on eof my favourite writers - her characters are definately not always stellar - but they are so reaslistic and I do love that. Thanks for sharing, Hannah

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  20. Marcia, my first Pym book was Excellent Women - a really great place to start, but I think you could choose whatever appeals to you and be fine. Here is the list from fantastic fiction (that fantastic site!):

    http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/
    p/barbara-pym/

    Thomas, I have the Hazel Holt biog. on the table waiting.

    And thank you for coming by, Hannah. I'll be over to visit.

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  21. I love Barbara Pym. She writes quiet books, but I can really care about her characters. It is because of the characters I meet that is my reason for reading.

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  22. Commonweeder, I so agree! And this is why I prefer to read books about good people.

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  23. I do love Barbara Pym and her beautifully written, quiet stories.

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  24. Robin, your recent review was just wonderful. QinA may be my next BP book.

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  25. Nan~ I finally ordered and received two Barbara Pym books - Excellent Women and Some Tame Gazelle. Excellent Women is a Penguin Classics edition with a lovely cover image (Still Life, Lyme Regis by Richard Ernest Eurich). As soon as I catch up with some library books with those pesky due dates, I'm going to start my Barbara Pym reading!

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  26. Marcia, thanks for coming back and leaving a note. I'm going to check out the cover - it sounds nicer than what I've seen. I don't see why Persephone doesn't republish all of Pym's work. I look forward to reading your feelings about the books.

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