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An Unsuitable Attachment

by Barbara Pym

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6291828,130 (3.95)1 / 107
St. Basil's is an undistinguished North London parish. Barbara Pym chronicles with wit & clarity the innumerable small absurdities in the life of its vicar, the Rev. Mark Ainger, his wife Sophia & their cat Faustina.
  1. 30
    The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (digifish_books)
    digifish_books: Another fine English novel in which a vacation to Italy brings personal relationships to the fore

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» See also 107 mentions

English (17)  Italian (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Passing Ianthe's house on her way home she now saw that this marriage was inevitable - it had to be. The lemon leaves had been unwrapped and there were the fragrant raisins at the heart.

An Unsuitable Attachment was to be Barbara Pym's seventh published novel until, fatefully, it was rejected by her publisher (Jonathan Cape) in 1963, and by several others. The successful novelist - who had recently had all of her works republished and was picking up steam amongst English librarygoers - was left to 14 years as a relative unknown. After her miraculous "rediscovery" in 1977, Pym published three more novels. Attachment was one of another three published after her early death in 1980.

My paperback (Grafton) edition has a foreward by Philip Larkin which, sadly, is not in my hardcover (Dutton) edition. Larkin, a longtime friend and penpal of Pym's, admits that this is not her strongest work. And, indeed, it isn't. The "unsuitable attachment" at the heart of the novel emerges rather slowly, before suddenly feeling like a foregone conclusion. And while there is much of Pym's typically astute character observation, the book doesn't sparkle with the vim and vigour of - frankly - all of her earlier novels (including her then-unpublished first, Crampton Hodnet).

Perhaps this is because Pym - 50 years old when she finished this novel - was drifting from her "early" and "middle" stages as a writer into her "late" period. Her subsequent novels have a darker quality, are certainly less outright comedic, and this feels like an awkward transition, a writer trying to navigate their preferred brand even as their mind and artistry have moved elsewhere. I found myself laughing less frequently, and underwhelmed by the marriage of Sophie and Mark (after the successful investigations of happy-but-bittersweet-in-a-typically-English-way marriages in Jane and Prudence and especially A Glass of Blessings, one feels as if Pym doesn't quite get to the nub of this one), as well as by the character of Penelope as a whole - who should surely be at the heart of things.

Nevertheless, we only have 12 full-length Pym novels (alongside the miscellany of shorter writings) and it's our duty to cherish every one. I shall do so! There are plenty of neat little moments, twists, and historical insights to this bygone age that shouldn't feel so far away. This is still satisfying Pym for those of us who enjoy the complete canon of works, but truthfully would only rank as two-stars outside of the world of Pymheads, I'm afraid. I would suggest new readers leave it until near the end of their journey. ( )
  therebelprince | Jun 24, 2021 |
The entanglements of love and desire in a small parish is both amusing and ridiculous. Pym is a master of uncovering the best and worst in human nature. ( )
  DrFuriosa | Dec 4, 2020 |
I'm reading these in the order the were written, and this is more amusing and less melancholy than other recent ones. Unusually it features a trip to Italy.

I found this thought-provoking. If John and Ianthe are indeed the unsuitable attachment (as opposed to Sophia and Faustina), John is a far better man than the ineffectual Rupert. At one point John's behaviour is a little on the persistent side, but Ianthe seems to find this acceptable and John is direct, devoted and whole-hearted. Rupert is far more of a typical Pym male character - dithery and with little capacity for love.

Sophia's affection for and attentions to Faustina are surely intend to be because she and Mark have no children, although I do not recall this being spelt out. I found her a sad character. I hope Penelope doesn't settle. ( )
  pgchuis | Nov 11, 2019 |
Although it does have some amusing moments, this is not, in my opinion, up to Barbara Pym's usual standards. There isn't a sympathetic character in it...not even one you can feel sorry for without liking very much. I just didn't like or care about any of them, and the men were so uninteresting I had trouble keeping them straight. Everyone seems to want to love (notice I don't say "love" actually) the wrong person, but the opportunities for humor and insight that ought to provide are mostly missed here. Even Rome comes off a bit tired and uninspiring in this book. Perhaps Pym was bored...she did apparently stop writing for years after this book was published. Much as I love her, I think she laid an egg with this one.
October 2013 ( )
2 vote laytonwoman3rd | Jul 30, 2016 |
Another enjoyable Pym! ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Pymprimary authorall editionscalculated
Larkin, PhilipForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schuman, JackieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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They are watching me, thought Rupert Stonebird, as he saw the two women walking rather too slowly down the road.
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St. Basil's is an undistinguished North London parish. Barbara Pym chronicles with wit & clarity the innumerable small absurdities in the life of its vicar, the Rev. Mark Ainger, his wife Sophia & their cat Faustina.

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