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Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym
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Quartet in Autumn (1977)

by Barbara Pym

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9644213,401 (4.06)1 / 265
  1. 30
    Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Deals with the pathos of ageing.
  2. 10
    At the Jerusalem by Paul Bailey (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both novels present the problems of old age.
  3. 10
    A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Diaries and Letters by Barbara Pym (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Barbara Pym's diary shows how closely autobiographical this novel is.
  4. 00
    A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor (LBV123)
    LBV123: Strangely affecting quiet book in which not much happens. How do we move on?
  5. 00
    The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both novels present the problems of old age.
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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
This was beautiful in a quirky quiet way. Letty, Marcia, Edwin and Norman work together in an office, doing a job that is of so little importance that when Letty and Marcia retire, they are not replaced, and when Edwin and Norma eventually retire, their work will be done by a computer.

Very little happens: Edwin goes to church, Marcia becomes stranger and stranger, Norman wonders about Marcia, and Letty's retirement plans are thrown into confusion when the friend she had planned to love with announces she is getting engaged.

It is hard to pin down what makes this book such a good read: there are humorous touches, but the overwhelming mood is one of sadness. ( )
  pgchuis | Sep 7, 2018 |
One of the things I enjoy most is a novel which spends a great deal of time talking about literature. I have a few novels which listed dozens of books. I took a lot of ribbing from my book club at a meeting when I listed new 200 novels mentioned in the text. That is unusual, but it is common in literary fiction to have characters reading or discussing an actually published novel. I recently reviewed Paul Auster 4321, and while one character sent a list of 100 books Archie Ferguson “had to read.” Only a dozen or so were mentioned, and most of those I had read. However, one novel really caught my eye. I knew Barbara Pym as a recognized author, but I had never read anything by her. But when a character recommended Archie read, Quartet in Autumn, I sensed a need to read this story. Pym provided me with a clue, which helped untangle the web Auster had created.

Barbara Pym worked as an editor for an African scholarly journal. She picked up the habit of observing the passage of humanity. Her first book was published, and a couple after, but publishers declined to continue to sign her, because they saw her work as old fashioned. In 1977, an influential article in The Times Literary Supplement listed her as one of the most underrated novelists of the 20th Century. She then published a novel, Quartet in Autumn, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

4321 is a complex novel, and almost everything points to clues about the novel and its characters. Quartet in Autumn is the story of four people – Norman, Edwin, Letty, and Marcia – all work together in a room, but no one knows what they are doing. Even the head of the company joked at a retirement party, “Exactly what is it you do?” This detail is never revealed. The “quartet” are friendly and helpful towards each other, but, oddly enough, they never socialize after work, and they never visit with each other. The novel reminds me of Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. This story details an elderly and lonely man and woman who decide to spend some time together. A reader might characterize these two novels as “old-fashioned,” but I found Pym’s novel interesting and absorbing.

Letty was the first to retire. She had a friend, Marjorie, who lived in the country, and on a visit, she discovered that her friend was in love with a local Vicar and they were planning to wed. Marjorie half-heartedly offered to let her move in with the newly engaged couple. Pym writes, “Of course there was no question of her living at Holmhurst, a large red-brick mansion standing in wide lawns which she had often passed when she went to see Marjorie. She once noticed an old woman with a lost expression peering through one of the surrounding hedges and that impression had remained with her. When retirement day came, and it was not far off now, she would no doubt stay in her bed-sitting room for the time being. One could lead a very pleasant life in London—museums and art galleries, concerts and theatres—all those things that cultured people in the country were said to miss and crave for would be at Letty’s disposal. Of course, she would have to answer to Marjorie’s letter, to offer her congratulations (for surely that was the word) and to ease her conscience about the upsetting of the retirement plans, but not necessarily by return of post” (54-55).

Some might see Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym as “old fashioned,” but with my library firmly established in the 19th century, I feel quite at home, with a steaming cup of tea and some biscuits. 5 stars

--Chiron, 11/9/17 ( )
  rmckeown | Jan 6, 2018 |
"there was something to be said for tea and a comfortable chat about crematoria."
By sally tarbox on 14 December 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
I couldn't put this down - sad, moving, incredibly funny ... put me somehow in mind of Beryl Bainbridge's writing.
The narrative concerns four older people working in an office in 1970s London. They are all very different personalities - spinsterish Letty; rather odd Marcia; angry Norman and Edwin, whose life revolves around obsessively attending church . Although they work together and are cordial, there are barriers between them, preventing any real closeness. After the two women retire, their lives take very different directions...

Juxtaposing four conservative, old-for-their age people with the trendy 1970s (a Nigerian pastor, social workers..), Barbara Pym has written an absolutely fantastic novel. Loved it. ( )
  starbox | Dec 13, 2017 |
Finely detailed writing about the lives of a quartet of office co-workers - I hope the author has inspired people to live less constricted lives,
free from depression, negative thinking, and fears about what others will think.

Otherwise, the book's message will be lost and is hard to grasp. ( )
  m.belljackson | Nov 11, 2017 |
This was a fascinating look at four co-workers in the autumn of their lives. Edwin, Norman, Letty and Marcia are all in their 60's and approaching retirement. They work together as clerks in a nondescript office, but each of them seems very alone. None of them have much of a life outside their jobs and they don't appear to be very close. In fact, they never even go to lunch together.

Pym slowly reels out the stories of each of the quartet. Edwin spends a lot of his time monitoring church activities; Norman plans tours with his brother-in-law, whom he despises, but never actually takes; Letty lives alone in a rented bedsit reminiscing about lost opportunities; and Marcia lives alone in her parent's old house, piling up tinned food even though she's emaciated and hoarding milk bottles in a garden shed.

The story may seem slow and boring at first, but Barbara Pym is a master at creating a complex story about the lives of these four seniors. The two women, in particular, seemed to be more filled out characters than either of the men, but each of their idiosyncrasies fascinated me. She writes about the world of ordinary people, and makes their flaws and human interactions important to the reader.

If you enjoy classic English literature, you will enjoy Quartet in Autumn. This was my first experience with Barbara Pym and I was surprised to discover how many awards she's won. She reveals so much about human nature in such a gentle way, I can't wait to discover more of her work. ( )
  Olivermagnus | Aug 9, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pym, Barbaraprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schuman, JackieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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That day the four of them went to the library, though at different times.
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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.
She 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.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0452269342, Paperback)

Quartet in Autumn is one of the books Pym wrote during the 15 years when no one would publish her, and perhaps the same kind of balance between hopelessness and inner strength helped shape this novel's story about four friends in an office nearing the age of retirement. They are people who have lived unspectacularly, but who have conjured a sense of themselves from the quartet's unity. Things start to change when two of them retire. Pym maps this ordinary strangeness of life with her particular genius for brilliant psychological insight and quiet humor that never strains for effect.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:22 -0400)

When Miranda Lovelady and Dr. Bill Brockton discover what could be the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, their finding triggers a deadly tug of war between the anthropologists, the Vatican, and a deadly zealot who hopes to use the bones to bring about the Second Coming, and trigger the end of time.… (more)

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