|Civil to Strangers / Barbara Pym|
London: Flamingo, 1994, c1936
My husband picked up this delightful Pym at the thrift store to complete my Pym collection. It's primarily a story called Adam & Cassandra, which she wrote in 1936 but which wasn't published until after her death. This book is made up of that story, now renamed Civil to Strangers, as well as three unfinished novels edited to long short story length, and four short stories, plus an essay/interview -- the only one in which Pym talked about her writing process.
Altgether it was a very entertaining read. The main story, Civil to Strangers, has a long-suffering Pym woman, Cassandra, married to a self-absorbed & pompous writer, Adam. It notes in the intro that Pym had read Enchanted April and Adam was slightly influenced by Mellersh Wilkins. I could see it!
There are the usual village residents in this story, unmarried 'spinsters' in their 30s, older widows, hapless men, and so forth -- but into the midst of this small village drops a strange new resident. He's a handsome youngish-middle-aged Hungarian, who is immediately smitten with Cassandra. This causes a fair bit of misunderstanding and gossip, especially when Cassandra heads off on holiday alone, on the same train that he is taking to town.
It's an amusing and wry story, full of the laughable moments Pym is so good at creating from individual foibles. But it's also light and has a happy ending for all - in that aspect I got the feeling of The Women in Black from this novel as well. It's so enjoyable and this book is worth buying for this story alone.
But there are others; only the one titled Flora & Gervase was a dud for me. The others were all entertaining in their own ways, particularly Pym's attempt at a spy novel, which is hilarious mainly because she has all her typical characters and typical descriptive writing experiencing a spy caper. It was a real delight, and I only wish she would have been able to fully finish this one.
And the brief discussion by Pym about her writing habits and career was wonderful. After reading this collection, I want to go back and reread all her novels again. If you haven't tried her yet, Excellent Women or Crampton Hodnet might be good places to start; and if you have read most of Pym, don't miss out on this collection of posthumous work.