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A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym
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A Few Green Leaves (original 1980; edition 1986)

by Barbara Pym

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5762224,811 (3.82)1 / 92
Member:JandL
Title:A Few Green Leaves
Authors:Barbara Pym
Info:Harpercollins (1986), Paperback
Collections:Your library
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A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym (1980)

  1. 10
    Spiderweb by Penelope Lively (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both novels feature an unmarried woman anthropologist's settling to live in an English rural village, and observing all she finds there.
  2. 00
    Commonplace by Christina Rossetti (KayCliff)
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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
"In her wry and incisive last novel, Barbara Pym builds with accumulating effect the picture of life in a village forgotten by time yet affected dramatically by it. History -- represented by Druid ruins and an eighteenth-century manor (and the last aristocrats who occupied it in the 1920s) -- is juxtaposed against the banalities of life in the 1970s. We encounter a classic cast of Pym characters -- the local cat-lady, widows, rectors, retirees -- as well as a new generation composed of a young doctor, a restaurant reviewer, a bearded intellectual and his wife. There is a romance, and there is a death. A Few Green Leaves is Barbara Pym's final statement on life. It is a masterwork, the culmination of her writing."
~~back cover

Barbara Pym is evidently the Seinfeld of this genre: as far as I could tell, absolutely nothing happened. Except for the death, of course, but even it was a non-event, making hardly a ripple in the mundane life of the village and the people in her circle. Even the romance didn't happen; it's only going to happen ... maybe.

I love reading about life in an English village, but this book was a non-starter for me. The characters were the sort of people who could never quite figure out what they thought or how they felt about any given situation. ( )
  Aspenhugger | Jun 25, 2015 |
Reviewer Trixie says: “After writing about London settings, Pym returns to the small country village of her beginnings. But, this village lacks the comfortable traditionalism of her earlier Some Tame Gazelle. Much of the book dwells on the changes that have come about in the English countryside by 1980.”

A Few Green Leaves is not depressing, however. It is instead humorously realistic about the incongruities between what people have been raised to expect and what actually is. I greatly enjoyed this, as I have all of Pym’s writings.

Read this if: you’ve read some other of Pym’s works and would like to see them “gel”. 3½ stars ( )
1 vote ParadisePorch | Jul 13, 2014 |
nice portrait of an English village ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
I’ve been reading Barbara Pym’s novels, in order of publication, at the rate of one per month, all year. There are many advantages to this method of working through her oeuvre, in addition to seeing her growth as a novelist. In A Few Green Leaves, completed barely two months before her death, she wrote what many consider her masterwork. It’s hard to argue with that, but the thing I liked best about this book was the way things have come full circle in Pym’s world. I have delighted in the way characters I got to know in previous volumes appear briefly in later volumes and now some characters that were introduced several volumes ago (meaning Pym wrote about them 30 years previously) are now being buried as we learn of two deaths.

It’s apparent that Pym was pondering her own mortality when she wrote this book with its emphasis on aging and dying. Emma Howick, a thirty-something, unmarried anthropologist, has moved into her mother’s old cottage in a rural village near Oxford. She is interested in doing a sociological study of village life. Pym surrounds her with pitch-perfect characters, and Emma makes notes: the local rector, Tom Dagnall, widowed and a history buff, whose spinster sister, Daphne, rushed to his side ten years ago when his wife died and has served as such in the rectory ever since; the village’s longtime doctor, Dr. Gellibrand “old and beloved in the village, but not very efficient, reluctant to prescribe new drugs, or any drugs at all---prefers homely remedies” and his wife, Christabel, who shows up at a function where Emma notes, “she made a brief visit, more in nature of royal personage bestowing a favor;” restaurant critic and former Church of England clergyman, Adam Prince; the new, young doctor, Martin Shrubsole “not particularly bright but well-meaning, kind and up-to-date---fashionable interest in geriatrics and wife, former social worker Avice, rather pushing and do-gooding, probably hankers for larger more prestigious house (possibly even the rectory);” and a large number of elderly, spinster gentlewomen including “Miss Lee (Olive), well-established village resident of type which is said to be ‘the backbone of England;’” “Miss Flavia Grundy, rumoured had once written a romantic historical novel, but it was never spoken of, a rather sad character, London high-church goer dumped in the country, pining for incense;” Miss Lickerish, “difficult to classify, tended to be outspoken, a real character.”

These are typical Pymian characters, extremely realistic, the sort of people we come in contact with every day and Pym sets this town that time forgot in direct juxtaposition to the local 18th century manor house that resides at the center of the town. This might be called a book of disappointment because so many of the characters find the need to “get together and compare notes on blighted hopes.” I continue to be dumbfounded to figure out why this sardonic, shrewd depicter of the human psyche is not more widely read. Her wry sense of humor is well-worth the price of admission alone. What a tremendous talent! ( )
8 vote brenzi | Aug 27, 2013 |
Set in a small English village this later Pym novel, published in the year of her death - has something of the feel of one of her much earlier novels, although it lacks a little of the sharpness of those earlier perfections.
Emma Horwick is an anthropologist in her mid-thirties, she moves to the village to write up her notes, and is immediately drawn into observing her neighbours. These of course are wonderful Pymish creations, clergymen, doctors, spinsters, academics and housewives. Tom is a slightly ineffectual widowed rector living with his sister in a large barn of a rectory that is coveted by the young doctor and his wife, while the old doctor also fairly ineffectual contents himself with prescribing hot milky drinks and placebos for insomnia. Elderly spinster Miss Lee reminisces about the days when the last governess of the de Tankerville family Miss Vereker and the “the girls” were still to be seen around the village. Tom concerns himself with local history particularly the de Tankerville mausoleum and the peculiar local ancient rite of burial in wool. Pym and her characters contemplate the village inhabitants of the recent and distant past – giving the village a timeless feel.
“August 1678, Tom Dagnall read in the diaries of Anthony a Wood ‘The act of buring in woollen commences the first of this month,’
While the idea of being buried in woollen in August seemed decidedly stuffy, it gave one a more comfortable feeling on this uncertain spring morning in the chilly study, looking out on to the tumbled gravestones. Daphne had placed a paraffin heater at his side but it gave out smell rather than warmth. How many of his parishioners, Tom wondered, had been buried in woollen? “
A former Anglican clergyman turned restaurant critic Adam Prince is especially proud of his wine cellar. Daphne – the rector’s sister – yearns for Greece – where she holidays each year leaving Tom to his own devices, and suddenly reveals she has always wanted a dog. The young doctor Martin Shrubsole finds the home he shares with his wife Avice, three children and mother in law just a bit too small – and casts his eyes towards the rectory, thinking a smaller house would be more suited to Tom’s needs. Newly installed in the Shrubsole home, Martin’s mother in law, finds herself no longer allowed to eat butter or sugar, and is required to take a walk from time to time.
Comfortably ensconced in her academic mother’s cottage, Emma is surprised to see her former lover Graham Pettifer on a late night discussion programme, and impulsively writes to him, inviting him to lunch. Emma imagines Graham will bring his wife Claudia with him – however when Graham does arrive he is alone, apparently estranged from his wife. Emma and Graham strike up a somewhat half-hearted relationship, Graham is frankly a bit dull, but when he decides to take up residence in a deserted woodland cottage on the edge of the village to finish his work, he and Emma are thrown together. Emma seems rather more interested in observing her village neighbours from a sociological point of view than she is in Graham however. Meanwhile, Tom, whose sister has moved to Birmingham, also starts to cast on eye in Emma’s direction.
A Few Green Leaves won’t be a favourite Pym novel for me, but it is gentle and engaging and very readable, there is a lovely mix of Pymish eccentrics and some amusing scenes of village life. It is interesting to note how Pym has updated her village to the modern (1970’s) world, the garden party has been replaced by a hunger lunch, and I was delighted to see patterned toilet roll holders at the bring buy sale. I had somehow forgotten about bring and buy sales. Overall A Few Green Leaves is simply charming, and that after all is no bad thing. ( )
2 vote Heaven-Ali | Aug 26, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Clearly something other than plot or even the interaction of character keeps Barbara Pym's novels going and the reader gratified. For nothing much happens, and the author remains a skeptical, almost aloof, observer studying relationships with a discrimination that her anthropologists might envy. But they are relationships that never develop. Closed in their own preoccupied solitudes, these people veer away from one another like charges in an electromagnetic field. This is both comic and sad, but the self-sufficient Emmas and Catherines demonstrate that being alone can be an exacting vocation, rather than a pathetic fate, one that calls for dignity, patience, intellectural curiosity, and a sense of humor.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Pymprimary authorall editionscalculated
Schuman, JackieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my sister Hilary
and for Robert Liddell
this story of an
imaginary village
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On the Sunday after Easter -- Low Sunday, Emma believed it was called -- the villagers were permitted to walk in the park and woods surrounding the manor.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060805498, Paperback)

In A FEW GREEN LEAVES the author combines the rural settings of her earliest novels with many of the themes- and even some of the characters- of her later ones. Switching points of view among many characters, she builds with accumulating effect the picture of life in a town forgotten by time yet affected dramatically by it. Historical time- represented by Druid ruins, the local eighteenth-century country manor, and the last aristocrats who occupied it in the 1920s- is juxtaposed against the banalities of life in today's world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:02 -0400)

Portrays life in an English village in Oxfordshire presenting the picture of a town forgotten by time yet affected by it.

(summary from another edition)

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