Monday, October 8, 2012

More marriage-in-crisis literature

So the book in the last post was about a marriage on the rocks in interwar Britain, and this one... well, only broadly and for the sake of pithy blog post openings could one describe A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym as being about a marriage on the rocks in 1950s Britain, but there it is.

Really, there is an enormous difference between Pym and Waugh. Waugh takes his story to the ends of the earth in a way; his book is a worst case scenario. Pym on the other hand is supremely realistic. Something I liked about both Excellent Women and Glass of Blessings is the way she captures how life is sometimes poorly plotted. You get very excited for something and then it doesn't happen for weeks and when it does happen you don't really care anymore, or it's not really what you had expected in the first place. Or you meet someone and sparks fly and it all seems very significant, and then nothing happens but maybe you run into them a year later at the grocery store or something. Pym manages to capture this without being totally boring about it.

The title is a reference to the way the novel concludes (so, "spoilers" I guess, although this is more a slice-of-life novel than a nail-biter). Wilmet Forsyth is the main character, essentially a woman of leisure. She doesn't regret not having children but she feels vaguely dissatisfied and fears that her life is empty and aimless. When she meets her best friend's handsome brother, and that same friend's husband starts hitting on her, Wilmet starts to think maybe she needs to get out of a rut. Meanwhile she is deepening her friendship with a very pious unmarried woman, whose charity and goodness make Wilmet uncomfortable. Lots of things happen, but at the end Wilmet decides that she shouldn't think of her life as a boring rut but as richly blessed: why should she feel guilty and unhappy because she has been provided for? It's an interesting way to conclude the novel, and I like the way the title interacts with the story and the reading experience.

The book features a gay character who is apparently So Gay that everyone who meets him goes, "oh, so that's what's going on!" Of course, you the reader can't see him so it's kind of hilarious. The one cue in the narration on his first introduction is that he is engaged in the supremely domestic activities of grocery shopping and cleaning the flat. It reminded me a bit of the way Ron Santo (God rest him), the very colorful radio commentator for the Cubs, would sometimes start laughing about some sign in the crowd without actually telling the radio audience what it said. Anyway, one nice touch is that the young man is employed as a waiter and a model for knitting patterns -- and when Wilmet gets home, she opens up a knitting magazine and there he is. Meanwhile, there is another character who is really obviously So Gay, at least to the 21st century reader, and no one makes any comment. If you're doing that LGBT reading challenge, you might want to have a look at this book.

I'm on the road this week so I don't have the book to hand to give you any funny quotes, but I really enjoyed this one. It's a fun book that manages to capture the "feel" of real life without being dull.

1 comment:

  1. Oh this is that book you were telling me about!

    Yeah about life being poorly plotted. I don't think I've actually seen that portrayed in fiction, so brava, Pym.