A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym
|A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A sharply-observed story of middle class manners|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: January 2013|
|Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media|
Wilmet Forsyth is a married woman, childless and living a life of leisure. She and her friend Rowena met their husbands - both Majors - in Italy, where they served as Wrens during the war. Rowena now has three children and her husband David might just be developing a wandering eye. Wilmet's husband, Rodney, is still Noddy to his mother with whom they live. Unburdened by children or domestic responsibility Wilmet lunches or shops and becomes involved in the social life of the local church, St Luke's. But it's her relationship with Piers, Rowena's somewhat wayward brother, which might pose the biggest threat to her comfortable, if rather boring existence.
If you look for your books to be plot driven then this is not the one for you, but if you enjoy sharp observation and a gentle but penetrating wit then it's a gem. It would have been more relevant when it was first published in 1958, when there were more women in Wilmet's situation, but it's still a delicious glimpse of a way of life and at her character. She's selfish unless she gets a slight prod from her mother-in-law, but then she has no need and little motivation to be anything else. She sails - particularly for the fifties - dangerously close to the winds of marital disharmony on occasions.
My favourite character is Sybil, Wilmet's mother-in-law. She lacks religion and has a wonderful capacity to be outrageous without quite overstepping the mark. I smiled through the book at the feeling that somehow she had the character which should have been Wilmet's and vice versa - in the same sense that the juxtaposition of Captain Mainwaring and Captain Wilson always made me smile in Dad's Army. Pym is strongest with female characters, much in the way of Jane Austen, and is a similarly seasoned observer of middle class manners. Like Austen she touches on several serious issues (here it's infidelity and homosexuality) but there's never any feeling of a harsh judgement being made.
I read the book in one sitting, drawn in by the elegant writing which has no need of any devices and it might well be this lack of showiness which has meant that Pym is somewhat under-rated - because she certainly is. It's said that in bad times readers turn to Austen: they could equally well turn to Pym.
If this book appeals then In the Gold of Time by Claudie Gallay is another gem which you'll love.
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