Our last read was 'Excellent Women' by Barbara Pym. Barbara Pym wrote for many years with little success before being championed by Philip Larkin and David Cecil in the 70s, and more recently by Alexander McCall Smith, who has written the introduction to the latest issue of the book.
She has been very favourably compared with Jane Austen, with that minute observation of character, and that gentle, engaging humour that makes the reader smile, but not laugh out loud. At the same time, neither of them says anything about the great issues of the time, both write about the world within the narrow boundaries of their experience, and about the small concerns that make up daily lives.
Her character in this novel, Mildred, a daughter of the vicarage, lives alone in her almost self-contained flat somewhere in London. She moves between her home, a part-time job with 'distressed gentlefolk' and the Vicarage. She is a great friend of the Vicar, Julian, and his sister, and personally I thought it would be ideal if she and Julian were to make a match of it, but this will never happen.
We all felt that Mildred comes across as much older than the 30-something she must be. She presents a portrait of a certain kind of woman at a certain period of history, in this case the early 50s, the dreary post-war days before rationing was lifted. Some found her annoying, pious, sanctimonious, boring, a busybody. Others found her funny, very subtle, entertaining, and enjoyed her wry comments on her world.
If you enjoy this book, I can recommend the 'Sunday Philosopher's Club' series by McCall Smith.