April was balmy and delicious, and cruel in the way the poet did mean, mingling memory and desire. The memory was of other springs, the desire unformulated, unrecognized almost, pushed away because there seemed to be no place for it in the life I had chosen for myself.
One day Rowena and I met to have a cosy women’s shopping lunch together. She had come up to town to buy new clothes for the children, but when I met her in our favourite restaurant she admitted that she had spent the whole morning buying things for herself and nothing for the children at all.
‘And this afternoon we’re having our hair done,’ I reminded her, for we were going together to my hairdresser who was to create elegant new hairstyles for us.
‘Oh this weather,’ Rowena sighed, pulling off her pale yellow gloves. ‘It makes one so unsettled. One ought to be in Venice with a lover!’
‘Of course,’ I agreed. ‘Whom would you choose?’
There was a pause, then we both burst out simultaneously, ‘Rocky Napier!’
and dissolved into helpless giggles.
OK, first of all, I’ve been feeling ‘unsettled’ myself of late. And this book made me feel even more so. But it happens, every now and then, and not because spring is here (in Malaysia, it just a permanently hot and humid summer), but just because so many things are missing in my life. Let’s not get into that now.
A Glass of Blessing’s narrator is Wilmet Forsyth, an attractive, self-absorbed married woman in her thirties. Wilmet is not satisfied with life. She’s bored, although she would never admit it. Her marriage is probably not what she imagined it would be; her husband no longer the dashing navy officer she met in Italy during the War, when Wilmet was a Wren. They are happy enough, but perhaps too comfortable. There is no longer any romance and excitement in the relationship. A cliche, but there you go. After all, aren’t most relationships a cliche, in one way or another, from the word go? (Oh dear, here I go!)
Wilmet and her search for some kind of purpose, and the way this is portrayed, resonates strongly with me. I don’t like the character, but I can relate to her feelings and desires, as misplaced and misguided as they might be. (Or perhaps because they’re misplaced and misguided?)
Despite not liking Wilmet, this is my next favourite Pym novel, after Excellent Women. Sybil (Wilmet’s mother-in-law) and Wilfred Bason are two reasons — Sybil because I want to be her when I grow up; Bason because he makes me laugh, in the same way William Caldicot, in Excellent Women, does.
There is also A Glass of Blessings’ unexpectedly frank portrayal of homosexuality and infidelity, but, as always, Pym’s tone is light, almost offhand, and so she makes her point without seeming to, or without you noticing. Indeed, when the book was first published, in 1958, some readers may not even have realised that at least two of the characters are gay. Hell, I can imagine some twenty-first-century readers being clueless. Partly it’s because it’s Pym and our expectations of the sort of subject matter that would be in the sorts of books she writes. It’s not like homosexuality didn’t exist in the fifties, but some may choose to believe it didn’t.
I’m in a weird mood, so the novel made me feel sad. Or sadder than usual. I’m going to stop here. Life!
Next: No Fond Return of Love