Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

 

Mildred Lathbury is an ‘excellent women’ This book is set in the 1950s, when an unmarried woman in her early 30s, like Mildred is considered middle-aged, and forever destined to be a spinster. She is a woman upon whom so many depend – particularly at her local church, where she is always called on to help out at bazaars, fetes, jumble sales and the like – due to her sensible nature and charitable mind. However, Mildred’s life is shaken up when she gets new neighbours in the form of the impetuous anthropologist Helena Napier, and her dashing husband Rockingham ‘Rocky’ Napier. The Napiers have a volatile relationship, but Mildred tries to keep from becoming involved – but it is so difficult when both of them rely on her for advice and help…

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this book. Certainly, it is amusing, with many wry observations on parochial life. Mildred – who is the narrator – is a likeable person, but I found myself getting frustrated at the fact that she was so obviously an intelligent and attractive woman, but she couldn’t see it for herself, because she had resigned herself to life on her own, thinking that she must not be interesting enough for anybody to marry. Maybe this was part of the point of the book.

However, it was certainly well written, and the characters were vividly brought to life. (I got the impression that if you ever met one of the characters, you would know them instantly.) Mildred herself was by far the easiest character to warm to, and as the book is told from her own self-deprecating point of view, perhaps this is only to be expected.

This is not a laugh-out-loud book, but it certainly made me smile on numerous occasions, especially when Mildred pointed out the ridiculousness of certain situations, which would normally seem so important.

Overall, I enjoyed the writing, and as this is the first book I have ever read by Barbara Pym, I would certainly be interested in reading more by this author.

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