Excellent Women--Barbara Pym

This has to be one of the most difficult reviews I've tried to write.  Here I am on my third attempt, and not sure this will see the light of day. 

What is so difficult?  Nothing I seem to say does justice to the book.  I can't describe it with respect to any other writer because the comparison quickly comes to nothing.  If I say Austen, you get the wrong impression one way; if I say Angela Thirkell, you get a wrong impression another way; if I mention Heyer, I run the risk of alienating half of the audience.  There is, in sum, nothing to be said in the way of comparison.  Pym is unique.

Excellent Women tells the story of a number of excellent women, chief among them our narrator--Mildred Lathbury, who finally tells us, near the end of the book, what is meant by excellent women:

from Excellent Women
Barbara Pym

'Esther Clovis is certainly a very capable person,' he said doubtfully. 'An excellent woman altogether.'

'You could consider marrying an excellent woman? ' I asked in amazement. 'But they are not for marrying.'

'You're surely not suggesting that they are for the other things?' he said smiling.

That had certainly not occurred to me and I was annoyed to find myself embarrassed.

'They are for being unmarried,' I said, 'and by that I mean a positive rather than a negative state.'

 The whole novel is populated with such excellent women--women, who if Mildred is any indication, always hold out a wan hope of their status changing--women who, while excellent, might prefer to be a little less excellent and a little more admired for other attributes.

By turns hilariously, laugh-out-loud funny, biting, and touching, Excellent Women is truly an excellent read.



  1. I must agree--it's excellent! I'm not done yet, but so far I have found it not only laugh-out-loud funny, but filled with little treasures. For example, Mildred is speaking with her newly met neighbor, Mrs Napier, who says,

    "You should see my bedside table, such of clutter of objects, cigarettes, cosmetics, aspirins, glasses of water, The Golden Bough, a detective story, any object that happens to take my fancy. Rocky used to think that so sweet, but after a while it maddened him, it was just a mess."

    "I suppose it does get like that, 'I said, 'One ought to be careful of one's little ways."

    Isn't that the truth? And Pym just slides it in along with the detritus that's been deposited carelessly on a bedside table that resembles mine at times.

    Love this book!

  2. Dear Bea,

    I'm glad you are finding it as engaging as I have. It's one of those books that you know must end, but would much prefer if it did not.




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