I'm still pouring a regular tipple of Pym's into my reading punch and No Fond Return of Love has been my latest Babs read and what can I say beyond, loved, loved, loved it?
Barbara Pym just has the eye to wither and dissect what she sees in front of her, dessicate and then rehydrate to give it all some context within her plot and hey presto, you have life as it was then.
Dulcie, a woman of means and Viola, a woman of pecuniary disadvantage, meet at a conference and I was instantly reminded of similar events I have been to.
You pitch up in your little student cell block bedroom, unpack and then you get that sinking lonely feeling and wonder what on earth you are doing there.
Where has that initial enthusiasm gone, the excitement that induced you to book months ago and then to travel halfway across the country to be there.
You thought you were looking forward to it but all of a sudden you wish you hadn't, or that might just be me?
I do get very homesick when I'm away. Penelope Fitzgerald was the same and wrote about it in House of Air.
'Homesickness is a real illness and that reason has no power against.'
But I digress, this conference is going to be fascinating because it's on the subject of Indexing.
That's right, writing indexes to books. Viola knocks on Dulcie's door in the middle of the night with an acute attack of something akin to homesickness and the seeds of an odd friendship are sown as Dulcie talks Viola out of her slough of despond,
'What a pity we can't make a cup of Ovaltine, was her last conscious thought. Life's problems are often eased by hot milky drinks.'
Dulcie and Viola both are unwitting stalkers of men, mostly lecturers and vicars it would seem, there's no two ways about it, as they pursue their prey gently but with resolve half way around the country and somehow cope unashamedly with the unexpected confrontations and meetings as they figure out the romantic course that their lives will take. Viola is the assertive one compared to Dulcie's quiet but dogged approach to life but as they scour cemeteries in the West Country resort of Taviscombe for the grave of the husband of the widow who is the mother of the lecturer whose brother is a vicar, (have you got that?) you can't help but giggle. Barbara Pym is masterly at demonstrating the hold that an inquisitive and largely unrecognised infatuation can have and the lengths her women will go to in achieving their aim.
This was the era of women with blue rinses clutching a matching blue-rinsed poodle which begs the question which I needs must now ask, where have all the poodles gone?
Everyone had a poodle in the 1950s and 60s and now I'm very sorry and can only apologise for taking you along this discussion route, please skip this bit if you want to, but suddenly I need to know; we were always trying to avoid the white poodle poo on the pavements, it used to play havoc with the wheels of my roller skates...did you have this trouble?
Is white poodle poo a figment of my imagination?
Likewise I've been trying to remember when the Dressing Gown became the House Coat because those feature in this book too, and I distinctly remember my transition from red, corded and tasselled robe to a sort of light hyacinth blue with flowers, quilted, nylon affair and I thought I was absolutely the bee's knees and probably wanted to wear it to school (but didn't).
Barbara Pym never fails to delight, even when, as with this book, events take a turn for the farce I was still lapping it all up and laughing because Babs can do very funny too
'Celibacy so often did stick out a mile, and not only among the clergy.'
Well, I laughed and there is plenty more laughter in No Fond Return of Love, perfect January reading.