SHORTLISTED FOR THE 1977 MAN BOOKER PRIZE"A spare masterpiece of loneliness in retirement" TelegraphIn 1970s London, Edwin, Norman, Letty and Marcia work in the same office and suffer the same problem - loneliness. With delightful humour, Pym takes us through their day-to-day existence: their preoccupations, their irritations, their judgements; and, perhaps most keenly felt, their worries about having somehow missed out on life as post-war Britain shifted around them. Deliciously, blackly funny and full of obstinate optimism, Quartet in Autumn shows Barbara Pym's sensitive artistry at its most sparkling. A classic from one of Britain's most loved and highly acclaimed novelists, its world is both extraordinary and familiar, revealing the eccentricities of everyday life.PRAISE FOR BARBARA PYM"Quartet in Autumn is immeasurably her finest work of fiction" Evening Standard"An alert miniaturist ... her novels have a distinctive flavour, as instantly recognisable as lapsang tea" Daily Telegraph… (more)
That day the four of them went to the library, though at different times.
How had it come about that she, an English woman born in Malvern in 1914 of middle-class English parents, should find herself in this room in London surrounded by enthusiastic shouting, hymn-singing Nigerians? It must surely be because she had not married. No man had taken her away and immured her in some comfortable suburb where hymn-singing was confined to Sundays and nobody was fired with enthusiasm. Why had this not happened? Because she had thought that love was a necessary ingredient for marriage? Now, having looked around her for forty years, she was not so sure. All those years wasted, looking for love! The thought of it was enough to bring about silence in the house and during the lull she plucked up the courage to go downstairs and tap — too timidly, she felt —at Mr Olatunde’s door. ‘I wonder if you could make a little less noise? she asked. ‘Some of us find it rather disturbing.’ ‘Christianity is disturbing,’ said Mr Olatunde.
She had always been an unashamed reader of novels, but if she hoped to find one which reflected her own life she had come to realise that the position of an unmarried, unattached, ageing woman is of no interest whatever to the writer of modern fiction.
Letty stood looking out at Holmhurst [retirement home] ... Three old ladies - an uncomfortable number, hinting at awkwardness - were walking slowly round the garden. There was nothing particularly remarkable about them except their remoteness from any kind of life.
Marcia went into the garden and picked her way over the long uncut grass into the shed where she kept milk bottles. These had to be checked from time to time and occasionally she even went as far as dusting them. Sometimes she would put one out for the milkman but she mustn't let the hoard get too low because if there was a national emergency ... there could well be a shortage of milk bottles.
So many things seemed to come in plastic bags now that it was difficult to keep track of them. The main thing was not to throw it away carelessly, better still to put it away in a safe place ... So Marcia took the bag upstairs into what had been the spare bedroom where she kept things like cardboard boxes, brown paper and string, and stuffed it into a drawer already bulging with other plastic bags ... Marcia spent a long time in the room, tidying and rearranging its contents. All the plastic bags needed to be taken out of the drawer and sorted into their different shapes and sizes, classified as it were.
But at least it made one realise that life still held infinite possibilities for change.