Book Reviews

A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym

This is Barbara Pym’s last novel, published only a few months before her death in 1980. I don’t think it’s her best novel, however it’s still a Pym novel, and that makes it well worth reading.

It’s set in the 1970s in a small English village, where time seems to have stopped somewhere in the 50s. Everyone knows everyone else’s business; village life revolves around the church, jumble sales and afternoon teas.

Emma Howick is an anthropologist: single and in her thirties. She takes up residence in her mother’s cottage in the village, thinking she will write an academic paper examining life in a small rural village. As Emma studies the villagers’ behaviour with her professional eye, it creates a sense of distance from the characters, making it difficult to connect emotionally with their lives.

However, Pym has such an eye for people and their foibles. She is sharply observant, but always with an underlying kindness. The vicar, Tom, who has lived with his sister Daphne for many years since his wife died, is suddenly left to his own care when Daphne decided to move away. There is much discussion amongst the village ladies about how will he possibly cope on his own? “It was a mistaken and old-fashioned concept, the helplessness of men, the kind that could only flourish in a village years behind the times”.

And Pym can be so damn funny!

“Daphne realised that she hated flower arranging altogether. Sometimes she hated the church too, wasn’t sure that she even believed any more, though of course one didn’t talk about that kind of thing. And Christabel G. hadn’t told her what she was to do, just snubbed her and left her standing uselessly by a heap of greenery. Into Daphne’s mind came yet another Greek vignette, the memory of an old man on the seashore bashing an octopus against a stone…..”

It’s heartbreaking that we lost Pym way too early. Her insights into ordinary lives, quietly lived are unparalleled. Reading any of her books is always a treat.

Reviewed by Gaby Meares
Murder on a Monday Reading Group

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A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym

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