Like many readers, I buy books with the best of intentions and yet often don’t act upon them, i.e. read my own damn books. To wit, I own nine Barbara Pym but had only read two of them. Now I’m up to three! Because I read Pym’s No Fond Return of Love, first published in 1961, for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 category “Classic by a Woman Author”.
One of the most delightful things about No Fond Return of Love was the realization that there is a “Pymverse” of London in the late 1950’s in which many (maybe all?) of Barbara Pym’s characters operate. For careful readers there is a tiny Easter egg from Excellent Women in Less Than Angels and now I found another follow up tidbit from Less than Angels in No Fond Return of Love. I love this idea and really look forward to discovering more of these little surprises as I read more of Pym’s works.
No Fond Return of Love covers familiar territory found in her other books: academia, marriage vs singledom and the Anglican Church. The main protagonist is Dulcie Mainwaring who decides to attend a weekend conference on publishing (she works freelance as an indexer and research) to help her get over her broken engagement. Dulcie likes researching people as well. ‘I love finding out about people’, said Dulcie, ‘I suppose it’s a sort of compensation for the dreariness of everyday life’. I have to imagine that Dulcie shares this curiosity about in the lives of strangers with Barbara Pym herself.
At the conference, Dulcie meets the rather difficult and sulky Viola Dace, a fellow indexer and Aylwin Forbes, a handsome, married forty-something author with whom both Viola and Dulcie maybe, sort-of fall in love. It’s all very Pymsian as their lives intertwine, making the London suburbs seem more like a cozy village rather than a sprawling metropole. And as usual, I laughed out loud multiple times. The humor is so subtle and surprising. I can see where Pym’s humor would not be to every reader’s taste, but when you get it, you really get it if you know what I mean.
This is now the last book that I needed to read for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018. Not as early as some but still happy to be crossing the finish line in good time! My wrap up post will be forthcoming. :D