Judy's Reviews > Excellent Women

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
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's review
Dec 10, 14

It was my good luck to discover this gem of a book in the most unlikely place: a small car wash store! The title and cover drew my attention, and I bought the book on a lark. I loved every page, especially watching protagonist Mildred Lathbury's perceptions of her new and more worldly neighbors, of the church curate, and of her self-perception as one of the "excellent women" whose lives as single women are, according to the married people around her, supposed to revolve around doing good for others with "fuller" lives.

The first scene of the book sets the tone:

"Ah, you ladies! Always on the spot when there's something happening!'" The voice belonged to Mr. Mallett, one of our churchwardens, and its roguish tone made me start guiltily, almost as if I had no right to be discovered outside my own front door." In these two sentences, Pym establishes the unthinking et patronizing attitude of the men in the story, which puts the women on the defensive, yet Pym's characters handle their status with quiet wisdom and wit. Thankfully they are never self-pitying or shrill.

Pym wrote nine novels, nearly all of them at least mildly satirical, beginning in 1950, but went unpublished for many years until her work was rediscovered in the late 1970s. Her writing is smart, canny, and funny as she develops a tight story line. I enjoyed keeping company with Mildred as the story develops. At the end of the book, Pym hints strongly at expanded opportunities in Mildred's life, should she choose them. Mildred's choice will be revealed in a single line in a later book, "Jane and Prudence," which I got from the library right after finishing this book. That, too, is a very good read, even funnier in parts than "Excellent Women."
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