The Big Pym-Re-Read: Some Tame Gazelle

Some tame gazelleWhile Less Than Angels is about a community of anthropologists, Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym’s first published novel, features her other favourite profession, the clergy.

The main characters, however, are spinsters, another Pym speciality, in this case, a pair of sisters called Harriet and Belinda Bede.

Harriet, the older sister, is plump, attractive, garrulous, and rather more flamboyant than the quiet, mousy, self-effacing and reflective Belinda.

Harriet has a fondness for young curates, a completely respectable regard, mind you, taking the innocent form of mothering these men of the cloth, inviting them for tea and dinner, and presenting them with gifts of knitted socks and sweaters, fruit, and homemade jams.

Meanwhile, Belinda loves their neighbour and the vicar of their parish, Archdeacon Henry Hoccleve. Belinda has been friends with the Archdeacon since they were at university together, and has remained steadfast for thirty years. Alas, he is married to the formidable Agatha, whom Belinda views with a combination of awe and fear.

Archdeacon HorcleveIn the first chapter of the novel we are introduced to Harriet’s latest young curate, Edgar Donne (I picture him looking like the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins [right]. Bizarrely, I also picture the Archedeacon looking like Hopskins!), who has come to the Bede’s for supper, and, as the book progresses, we meet the other characters, part of the Bede’s circle, including Henry and Agatha Horcleve; Count Ricardo Bianco, an Italian nobleman settled in their village, who is in love with Harriet and proposes to her regularly and in vain; Edith Liversidge, a ‘decayed gentlewoman’, and her poor relation, the dreary harp-playing Connie Aspinall who will not stop speaking of her days as companion to a lady in Belgrave Square.Read More »

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The Big Pym-Re-Read: Less Than Angels

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I haven’t really blogged about Barbara Pym’s novels and, now that I have physical copies for all of them, I thought I would do a big re-read and then write a post about each book.

I chose Less Than Angels at random, but after this I will read the novels in order of publication:

  • Some Tame Gazelle (1950)
  • Excellent Women (1952)
  • Jane and Prudence (1953)
  • Less than Angels (1955)
  • No Fond Return of Love (1961)
  • Quartet in Autumn (1977)
  • The Sweet Dove Died (1978)
  • A Few Green Leaves (1980)
  • An Unsuitable Attachment (written 1963; published posthumously, 1982)
  • Crampton Hodnet (completed circa 1940, published posthumously, 1985)
  • An Academic Question (written 1970–72; published posthumously, 1986)
  • Civil to Strangers (written 1936; published posthumously, 1987)

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Wifely Duties

I finished reading The Wife by Meg Wolitzer and also watched the film, starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce.

I didn’t expect to be, but I was disappointed by both.

I loved Glenn Close in the film — she was very good, but then I have not seen her falter in anything. Pryce was good too, his character was both pathetic and odious, and he portrayed him well. (He almost made me gag because he reminded me of a creepy someone in the lit scene here!)

However, I wasn’t convinced by the story. (No spoilers!)

In the film, I felt it was not developed sufficiently and so, I had trouble believing it. In the book, I didn’t think we got to know Joan well enough to understand why she did what she did. Intellectually it made sense, but not viscerally. We know Joan (a little) but we don’t feel her and so we don’t feel for her either.

Wolitzer’s writing style did not appeal to me. I found her voice cold and distant. Perhaps Joan is those things because of what she’s been through, but the author doesn’t allow us to get under her skin. She doesn’t give us a sense that Joan is torn between love and hate; pride and shame; she doesn’t make us feel Joan’s desperation.

Glenn Close, in the film, is successful in bridging that gap between the character and the audience. Her portrayal of Joan allows us to experience (at least to some degree) the conflicting emotions that must engulf the character at every turn. Still, I didn’t feel much more than a fleeting pity for her. Perhaps the problem was ‘resolved’ too conveniently and quickly. Or seemed to be. I suppose Joan is left to live with the truth, and to decide how to deal with it. Perhaps Wolitzer needs to write a sequel!

 

 

Stories by Hiromi

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A friend recommended The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, and I liked it so much that I immediately read two other novels by this author: Strange Weather in Tokyo and Manazuru.

Nakano and Strange Weather are both comforting reads with characters who are each a tiny bit odd and awkward, at worst exasperating, but, by and large, quite inoffensive, even endearingly eccentric.

hiromi nakanoBoth novels are about unconventional love affairs. Hitomi, the narrator, in Nakano works at the thrift shop and is in love with Takeo, her fellow staff member. Both she and he are clueless as to how to handle their mutual attraction. At fifty-one I remain clueless as to how to handle any attraction to any man. Hitomi may be young, but I can fully relate to her inadequacies. Not only do I remember being the same way in my twenties, I realise I have become even more so in my fifties.

Aside from Hitomi and Takeo, there are Mr Nakano, the shop’s owner; and his sister Masayo. Nakano is sarcastic yet kindly. He likes to assume a world weary air, but is often as awkward as Hitomi. Although not particularly attractive and without any social graces, when we meet him, he is on his third marriage and has a radiantly beautiful mistress who owns an antiques store, much posher than his thrift shop. When Sakiko, the mistress, writes a pornographic novel, Mr Nakano is shocked and bewildered. He isn’t such a man of the world after all. And when Mr Nakano finds out that his sister has taken a lover, he pays Hitomi to question her. Naturally, Masayo, who is in her mid-fifties, is both amused and annoyed at being treated like a naive youngster.

hiromi strange weatherIn Strange Weather, the narrator re-connects, in her late thirties, with someone from her past — the man who once taught her in high school. I have my own hangups about older men so I wasn’t sure about the novel’s premise. However, this is not (thank goodness) the story of an old man recapturing his youth through sex with a much-younger woman. Neither is the narrator responding to daddy issues by fixating on an older man. This not a book about sex, but rather a book about friendship and respect and regard. I loved it and believe it will be a regular comfort read.

Manazuru I also enjoyed, and I shall definitely re-read it, but not for comfort. Manazuru is unsettling, even disturbing. In it, the protagonist, Kei, is a single mother. Her husband disappeared one day, quite out of the blue, or at least that’s what we are made to understand at first. However, as the story unfolds, we realise that Kei is not a reliable narrator. She seems to have forgotten the past, and Manazuru, a seaside village she is drawn to and keeps returning to, draws more and more of the past out of Kei.

What was most disturbing about this novel was that Kei hiromi manazurusometimes mentions being followed by … something. Sometimes she can tell its gender. Sometimes there are many of these ‘things’. One ‘woman’ follows more than the others. Is she (and the others) a ghost, or the ghost(s) of a memory/memories? Kei is matter of fact about these ‘hauntings’. Even when she is repulsed, she doesn’t react strongly to these things that follow her. There is a scene in which the ‘woman’ eats the food that Kei has ordered for dinner. The actual food remains, but the spirit or whatever it is, keeps reaching out for it, filling its mouth again and again. It made me quite sick to the stomach reading this. There is a lot of anxiety and lonely sadness portrayed in this novel. Uncomfortable, wretched feelings permeate its pages, but it is still a compelling read.

Nakano and Strange Weather were translated by Alison Markin Powell, while Manazuru was translated by Michael Emmerich. The storytelling is smoothly done, but there is the occasional inconsistency in tenses, which I put down to the publisher’s lack of budget for a proofreader.

A New Comfort Read

www3It took me a while as I’ve been busy with editing deadlines, but I finally finished reading Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa.

I loved it and I’m glad I was ‘forced’ to take my time with it.

The book is about Sentaro, a middle-aged man, who works at a dorayaki shop and is pretty tired of his job and his life. Once upon a time he thought he might be a writer, but then he ended up in jail and in debt, and now he simply goes through the motions, making and selling dorayaki in the day and getting drunk in the evenings.

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