My Month of Re-Reading continues with two books by favourite women authors – to whom, incidentally, I was introduced by the same person. Mary was a neighbour whose garden backed onto ours. She introduced me when I was in my formative years to feminism, socialism, Iris Murdoch, Anita Brookner, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Taylor, Erica Jong, Virago books and much more. Did you have someone like Mary in your young life? Who introduced you to the books you still love today?
Barbara Pym – “A Few Green Leaves”
(7 October 1994)
My re-reading interest in this book was piqued by the Barbara Pym Conference (more of that later in the blog) and luckily I had this one handy at the time, unlike “An Unsuitable Attachment”, which I also want to re-read soon. We’re back into village life with this one, with Emma Howick, perceived to be unsuccessful and the daughter of an academic, moving into her mother’s cottage and deciding to make an anthropological study of village life. She’s not the only one studying the population, with the young doctor interested in geriatrics, not to mention the beady eyes of the other inhabitants. Her notes and observations frame the tensions within the community between new doctor and old doctor, doctor and rector, original and newer inhabitants, and there is some of that unsatisfactory romance that BP does so well, too, as well as some marvellous lone men to throw into relief the difference between them and spinsters.
Many mentions of characters from other books – the ex-priest, Adam Prince was at Father Thames’ clergy house with Wilf Bason the adventurous cook, and there is news of Fabian Driver and Esther Clovis, the latter of which provides a plot point allowing us to be updated on the status of Digby Fox, Deirdre, Dr Apfelbaum and Gertrude Lydgate from “Less Than Angels”.
Satisfying, well-written as ever and extremely funny, for example Daphne’s increasingly violent memories of Greece as she contemplates the church flower arranging.
Anita Brookner – “A Start in Life”
I did want to re-read a Brookner anyway, but then Heaven-Ali came up with the idea of Brookner in July to celebrate the author’s birthday, so this forms part of that challenge, too. This one has a superb opening sentence: “Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature”. We’re in classic (early) Brookner-land here with a red-haired, solitary daughter with her slightly raffish mother and unreliable family in general, odd retainer and unsatisfactory lover, with London and Paris playing starring roles and minute observation of the disconnect between the central characters and modern life.
It’s quite Pym-like in ways, although much more melancholy than even the saddest Pym – a farcical attempt at cooking a meal for a lover is tragic here, rather than comic – but a world in which the reader can immerse themselves and as good a reading experience now as when I was much younger and reading Brookner for the first time.