Thoughts: Some Tame Gazelle

Last weekend I read Barbara Pym’s first novel, Some Tame Gazelle. I think I’ve read two other books by her but I honestly cannot remember. But I know I’ve at least read her Excellent Women which made me an instant Barbara Pym fan.

Some Tame Gazelle is typically set in an English village, sometime during the 1950s. The two spinster sister Belinda and Harriet Bede are like all Pym’s ‘excellent’ women, and help a lot in the parish. Belinda has been in love with the village’s eccentric married archdeacon Henry Hoccleave, while Harriet regularly refuses proposals of marriage from an Italian gentleman and focuses her attention on the village’s newest curate. Visits from a librarian and an African bishop disturb their lives.

This first novel is as wonderful as the excellent Excellent Women, but much funnier and less bittersweet. And while the story may appear simply charming and quaint at first, Pym has a wicked sense of humor, which made me read the whole thing in one afternoon.

Belinda and Harriet are very different. While Belinda is reserved and proper, Harriet is plump, fashionable and cheerful. Belinda also shares a love for 18th century poetry and sermons with the archdeacons and she often rummages around the house humming hymns. Of course, being a spinster in the 1950s may often have been only marginally more fun than in the late 19th century, but Pym presents the sisters as happy and far from lacking in romance. Belinda’s love for the archdeacon might have made her extremely happy, had it not become “like a warm, comfortable garment, bedsocks, perhaps, or even woollen combinations; certainly something without glamour or romance”. Indeed, the more we learn of Henry, the more we sympathize with his wife Agatha and come to feel that Belinda has actually been lucky.

The other villagers are also quite funny and even though they are types, they are somehow still believable. One of my favorite parts is when the congregation is listening to one of the elaborate and fear-inducing sermon of the archdeacon about the coming of judgement day, and their thoughts about not wanting to feel that could be tomorrow, or that scientists had proven that it wouldn’t happen!
Pym observes their ‘small’ lives with its pains and pleasures, and her commentary is wicked and yet not mean. I’m pretty sure Pym novels are the type of books that many people feel lack action and real plot (probably not many of my readers though), but there is so much going on, it just happens on a smaller scale, which does not make it any less important or true.

Some of my favorite passages:

“On the threshold of sixty,’ mused Dr. Parnell. ‘That’s a good age for a man to marry. He needs a woman to help him into the grave.”
“Of course it’s alright for librarians to smell of drink.”
“Belinda waited. She doubted now whether it would be possible to be back for tea at four o’clock. She could hardly break away when the Archdeacon was about to deliver an address on the mortality of man.”
“But surely liking the same things for dinner is one of the deepest and most lasting things you could possibly have in common with anyone,’ argued Dr. Parnell. ‘After all, the emotions of the heart are very transitory, or so I believe; I should think it makes one much happier to be well-fed than well-loved.”
“The trouble was that Miss Prior wasn’t entirely the meek person one expected a little sewing woman to be. Belinda had two feelings about her- Pity and Fear, like Aristotle’s Poetics, she thought confusedly.”
“…the sermon was at an end. There was quite a stir in the congregation, for some of them had been dreaming gay dreams most of the morning, although many of them had given the sermon a chance, and had only allowed their thoughts to wander when it had passed beyond their comprehension.”

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Mini reviews: Oldies, Classics and Cozies II

On with the mini reviews. I read Mrs Harris Goes to New York sometime in July so let’s see what I can remember about it. I enjoyed it a lot and I think I read it because it’s a Bloomsbury book and their books all sound delightful. My libraries don’t have any books of that series but I found another edition of this one in my uni library. Mrs Harris Goes to New York is the second book, I found the first one, Flowers for Mrs Harris, at my library yesterday and finished it already. It’s very short and absolutely delightful. In the first book, Mrs Harris a London char woman sets her mind on acquiring a Dior dress in Paris and finds much more than that. In the second book, she goes to New York, to find the father of the mistreated boy next door. Both stories are completely unlikely, they make wonderful fairy tales though. Mrs Harris is an open and warm person, quite optimistic despite her lot in life. It is wonderful to see how she touches the people she meet on her adventures, and there are  little ups and downs in the stories that have you hope and wish for the success of Mrs Harris’ missions.

 

Miss Buncle’s Book is apparently a Persephone, but my uni library had this wonderful old edition, which smelled like old book. This one is definitely a cozy read, and I spent a wonderful Sunday with this one.

Barbara Buncle is an unmarried woman who decides to write a novel to increase her small income. Deciding to write what she knows, she makes her village the setting of her novel and her neighbours, with very thinly disguised names, her characters, exposing their meanness and secrets. The book is a huge success but the villagers recognize themselves and are furious. They set out to discover who this ‘John Smith’ is.The great fun of this is that everyone views her book as a biting satire, when Miss Buncle is really charmingly naive and kind. It’s not amazing writing, but the story is wonderful. It’s really perfect if you want to escape the complexities of reality and hide in a world where there’s good people and bad people, and the good ones get a happy ending. No need to trouble yourself with these vexing shades of gray and ambiguous characters 😉

 

Ah Wodehouse, I can never resist the lure of your barmy books! I haven’t read that many of his works because despite being such a prolific author, I’m fearing the day when there will be no new-to-me Wodehouse for me to turn to.

Money in the Bank is a completely nutty story about Lord Uffenham who has let his country place to Mrs Cork, a vegetarian big-game huntress who turns it into a health farm. Unfortunately he is rather absent-minded and has forgotten where he has hidden his diamonds, so he returns to his home as the butler Cakebread to look for them and his niece returns as Mrs Corks secretary to look after her uncle. This also features the Molloys and Chimp twist who are after the diamonds as well. And Jeff Miller, a typical Wodehousian hero, is involved in all sorts of goings-on but has no idea how that happened. There’s no Jeeves to save him, but Lord Uffenham’s niece comes to the rescue.

Is it possible to not enjoy Wodehouse’s works? Between the language and the fun lunacy, I think I’m incapable of not adoring every single one of them.