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An Unsuitable Attachment

by Barbara Pym

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6992132,934 (3.97)1 / 111
Owing a debt to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Barbara Pym's An Unsuitable Attachment is an elegant and witty comedy of manners from an acclaimed author who Philip Larkin called 'the most underrated novelist of the century'.'I'm a huge fan of Barbara Pym' - Richard Osman, author of The Thursday Murder Club'The day comes in the life of every single man living alone when he must give a dinner party.'The parish of St Basil, on the fringes of North Kensington, is all of a flutter due to the arrival of Rupert Stonebird, a most eligible bachelor, in the neighbourhood. The local matchmakers are sure he will make a suitable husband for the vicar's wife's sister, Penny, or perhaps for local librarian Ianthe Broome?But Ianthe is in danger of forming a most unsuitable attachment to her new library assistant, John, a man of questionable background with not a penny to his name . . .'Barbara Pym is one of my most favourite novelists. Few other writers have given me more laughter and more pleasure' - Jilly Cooper, author of The Rutshire Chronicles… (more)
  1. 40
    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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English (18)  Italian (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (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 | Apr 21, 2024 |
It's Barbara Pym...I'm just glad I still have more of her novels to read. ( )
  almin | Aug 31, 2023 |
Well worth the read for its wit and sharp understanding of people who dither over their sheltered lives. Accurately sketches the scrimping timid attitudes of the traditional Anglican world of the 1960's. Ms Pym does not hold back exposing the ridiculous self-talk and projected thinking of her characters as they strive to do the right thing to others, but not necessarily to themselves.
I liked it so much I just bought another two Barbara Pym reprints from Virago Press.
  ivanfranko | Mar 29, 2023 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (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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"A card index may be a noble thing."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Owing a debt to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Barbara Pym's An Unsuitable Attachment is an elegant and witty comedy of manners from an acclaimed author who Philip Larkin called 'the most underrated novelist of the century'.'I'm a huge fan of Barbara Pym' - Richard Osman, author of The Thursday Murder Club'The day comes in the life of every single man living alone when he must give a dinner party.'The parish of St Basil, on the fringes of North Kensington, is all of a flutter due to the arrival of Rupert Stonebird, a most eligible bachelor, in the neighbourhood. The local matchmakers are sure he will make a suitable husband for the vicar's wife's sister, Penny, or perhaps for local librarian Ianthe Broome?But Ianthe is in danger of forming a most unsuitable attachment to her new library assistant, John, a man of questionable background with not a penny to his name . . .'Barbara Pym is one of my most favourite novelists. Few other writers have given me more laughter and more pleasure' - Jilly Cooper, author of The Rutshire Chronicles

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