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3.0 out of 5 stars
An Academic Question (VMC)
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2009
This posthumously published novel was put together by Hazel Holt from two different versions which Barbara Pym had written in the late sixties and early seventies, when she was failing to find a publisher for any of her works. It is easily the slightest of Pym's novels, and now seems strangely dated. This is probably because its self-conscious attempts to be `with it', with mild references to long hair, lots of smoking and even an episode of adulterous sex. There are several `characters' of a Pymish nature but they appear artificial. Pym was of course writing about a mileu - a new university (apparently based on Bath) - with which she was unfamiliar. Her Oxford days were of no relevance here. There are some references to earlier works - Sister Dew appears, and Esther Clovis (albeit dead) - but these are somewhat contrived. The heroine, Leonora, is exceptionally pallid and only a faint shadow of the Pym character she seems most intended to resemble, Wilmet of `A Glass of Blessings'. Overall, this is a book which will probably interest Pymites, but disappoint most other readers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2012
Written in 1971, when Barbara Pym was unpublished and so primarily for the delight of her friends, this was never finished and the text was finalised after her death by Hazel Holt. You wouldn't really guess this, except that the novel is shorter and slighter than any of her other work (at least those novels I've read so far). Also the first person narrative is somewhat less developed than in other novels where Pym uses this device (we don't get quite the same pleasures of seeing the minor self-deceptions of the mind).

The novel is episodic - there's no big theme and the plot proceeds at its own pace - but the episodes are delightful. Caro Grimstone lives with her junior lecturer husband in a provincial town (maybe Bath is indicated at one point, though) and the academic question is a professional disagreement with his about-to-retire professor, a question which, if it is to be resolved, will require access to some source material belonging to an about-to-die retired missionary to whom Caro reads. Meanwhile Caro worries that her husband finds a new divorced lecturer attractive and will have an affair with her - and actually he will have an affair, but with someone else...and how will Caro respond to that....There is, then, lurking sadness and heartbreak here, alongside the laughter....

And with more liberated times, we can now see how it is for Caro to confront the woman with whom her husband has slept and the course of her thoughts on a rather wider range of life than troubles the stream of consciousness of earlier Pym first-person narrators.

This isn't quite the equal of the best Pym. But it is enormously enjoyable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2013
As a Pym fan , I almost enjoyed this. There was something peculiarly lifeless about it, although it perked up at the end. The narrator is pretty boring, as is her lecturer husband. The story,such as it is, is about various university lecturers and librarians, with hangers on. No vicars! The husband of the narrator 'borrows' some unpublished papers from a nearly-dead ex missionary, which helps him with an article. He's a pretty immoral chap, as we hear he has a a quickie with an assistant editor. What comes across is what an easy life these people had. Pym is not in the least tuned in to the sixties or seventies. The humour and sharp characterisation is missing. Read it, but realise that all authors, however brilliant, have their off day
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 December 2013
This was the first Barbara Pym novel I had read; I had high hopes, knowing she has quite a following, but I found this to be utterly wishy-washy - you pretty much forget it the second you finish it.
It's narrated by Caroline, wife of a university lecturer, who is inveigled by her husband into 'borrowing' some valuable old papers from the elderly gentleman she reads to, so he can use them in his thesis. Nothing much comes of it. Nothing much comes of the problems in their marriage. The characters are weak and unsympathetic (with the possible exception of Dolly who rescues hedgehogs, and on the death of one proclaims 'My golden Maeve, the ancient Irish queen', while the Swedish au pair observes 'Is dead the little hedge-pig'.)
I see some other reviewers feel this is Barbara Pym's least successful work so perhaps I'll try a different one sometime.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2013
Relax with Barbara Pym in a world of the 1950s era and all the principles and guidelines of a time much loved and sadly gone now. This book evokes memories of my childhood and has well drawn and believable characters. Barbara Pym has a sharp and descriptive eye for human nature in both men and women. An entertaining read, much enjoyed by me. When I can't find a "good read" at the moment, I can find a "Barbara Pym", Thank goodness for reprinting!
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on 10 January 2014
Having read and enjoyed most of Barbara Pym's novels I would say this is the weakest. The introduction states that it was actually put together by Barbara Pym's friend and literary advisor Hazel Holt from Pym's drafts and notes. It would perhaps have been better condensed into a short story. I found it quite difficult to engage with this one, unlike the rest of Pym's books. The main characters are fairly unappealing, self-absorbed and amoral. The narrator's odd detachment from her four year old daughter is unconvincing. Plot developments are introduced that appear significant but go nowhere. The contemporary (at the time) cultural references seem laboured. There are still some gems of sharp writing that make the book worth reading for Barbara Pym fans but I would not recommend it to anyone who has not yet read her other work.
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on 25 November 2013
This one was an experiment and is interesting as such. However - it's not successful - being transitional which is probably why she didn't seek it's publication.
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on 7 August 2015
The title also reflects Pym's ironic look at life!
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