All the single ladies (and gents) put your library cards up!
I read Barbara Pym’s ‘Quartet in Autumn’ after seeing it reviewed on Madam Bibi Lophile’s blog, and now I’m having one of those where has Barbara Pym been all my life moments, and trying to get hold of all her work.
It’s a gentle, honest and touching book of observations, of the lives of four sixty-somethings that work (inefficiently) in a small office, and how their paths change when the ladies retire. They were both always spinsters, and one man is widowed, and the other a bachelor, so between them they know a thing or two about toast for dinner, and bed-sits.
It reminded me of the ‘Miss Read’ books (which along with Georgette Heyer, I will defend against all critics, and a lot of people who knock them haven’t read them), and others where people may die or be born, but like Miss Read there is no great crime or mystery, just perfectly, clearly, drawn characters, and we really feel taken into their worlds.
I am also fascinated by single people, as I am one. I haven’t always been, I was with the same person from 15-32, so once upon a time all I knew was being a couple. In the last eight years none of my relationships have been much to speak about, and I’m not desperate to mix my life in with another person’s. And it’s bad enough I have to go and be polite to my own family, let alone someone else’s.
The older I get, the more selfish I am with my time, as the fact is there’s less of it left. When I was 20 and my husband needed us to move away with his job, or even trivial things like wanting a certain radio station, TV program, etc, I knew where I had to compromise. Going without something you never had, is not the same as giving up something. Now I’ve had eight years of a dictatorship in my house, with me as the despot. People say things to me like ‘Yes but you will meet someone one day and the thunderbolt will change your mind, you’ll know he’s the one and be willing to give up anything’. Well, maybe, but more likely maybe not, as I’m sure more thunderbolts hit people when they are young, and considerably less tired (and possibly bitter) than me.
So, I see a lot of myself in Barbara Pym’s singles, and they could well be me in 20 years time, deep in my own quiet routines, and not unhappily so.