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Quartet in Autumn

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  3,141 ratings  ·  431 reviews
Combining an acute eye for the eccentricities of everyday life with her unique talent for illuminating human frailties, Barbara Pym has created a world which is both extraordinary and totally familiar
Paperback, 186 pages
Published August 20th 2004 by Pan Macmillan (first published September 1st 1977)
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This was recommended to me by various bloggers and certainly lived up to their praise. Originally published in 1977, this was Pym’s seventh novel out of nine; she died in 1980. It’s about four London office workers, all sixty-somethings who are partnerless and don’t have, or at least don’t live with, any immediate family members. We never learn what they do in this office; in fact, Edwin, Norman, Letty and Marcia don’t seem to be filling much of a need, especially given the fact that the two old ...more
I have been hearing good things about Barbara Pym for a while, and this short novel, which earned her only Booker shortlisting, seemed like the obvious place to start. It is gentle, poignant and sharply witty. The leading characters are all of a certain age (around 60) and single, and at the start of the book they are all sharing a London office where they do clerical work.

The plot revolves around the contrasting retirements of the two women Letty and Marcia. Letty lives in a shared house and Ma
Katie Lumsden
Aug 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very good novel - poignant and solemn and smart all at once. The way Pym explores loneliness, and the skill with which she paints her characters, make it an impressive and important book.
This little novel probably appealed to me so strongly because these four people are in the zone that I currently inhabit—they are reaching retirement age and wondering if they are ready for this next phase of life.

I’m currently flailing around, trying to determine if I have the financial resources necessary to pull the plug, because like Letty and Marcia, I never married and I’m now responsible for my own future. But how times have changed—I’m no longer at the mercy of the government pension to
Jul 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read-in-2013
“Quartet” is the first of her books written after a hiatus. It was also written after her own breast cancer surgery. It’s much darker than her earlier novels. Her trademark sly humor is still intact though there’s a gallows feel to it. The story is about four 60 something work colleagues, two men and two women, right on the cusp of their retirement. (Pym too had recently left her long time editing job due to ill health.) As always the characters are utterly unique. Norman is an angry man, barely ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this story that was more of a character study of four elderly office workers that lived quiet lives in London during the 1970's. Each character had their own unique quirks but ultimately their rigidness turned into a tale of loneliness.
May 02, 2016 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: The terminally bored - they'll read anything
Shelves: brits

I don't think she's that underrated actually.

(view spoiler)
Jun 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing

When I first read Quartet in Autumn I think I found it a little sad – veering towards depressing. Maybe this is the kind of book that one needs to be in the right frame of mind for. This time I found I really loved it. Although this novel does seem to be a bit different from other Barbara Pym novels, there are still plenty of Pymisms to be found. This was the novel that was published in 1977 after Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil had both separately and independently of each other, named Barba
Josh Friedlander
There's something magnetic about Barbara Pym's prose and her prickly, very private, isolated protagonists. On the book's cover, each of the characters faces away from the centre; indeed, a very superficial reader might leave this book with the impression that the characters don't much like each other. But that would be to mistake their very British reserve for lack of compassion. On the contrary, there is so much compassion in the awkward way that the four retired protagonists connect. Their tho ...more
Realistic but sad portrayal of four retirement-age people who work together in one office but are not really friends. They are all quirky and lonely people who over time, and because of the death of one of them, seem to become aware that all they have is each other. The end is very optimistic and hopeful, but the book is rather a drudgery of humdrum daily lives. Perhaps because I am at that stage of life, the message hits too close to home. Barbara Pym has the reputation of being a wonderful aut ...more
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quartet in Autumn is about two men and two women in their early sixties, solitary but not necessarily lonely Londoners, who work in the same office in the mid-1970s. The reader never finds out exactly what it is they do for a living, “The activities of their department seemed to be shrouded in mystery-something to do with records or filing, it was thought, nobody knew for certain, but it was evidently ‘women’s work’, the kind of thing that could easily be replaced by a computer.”. When the two w ...more
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A look at 4 unmarried people of retirement age in the 1970s, 2 men and 2 women who work together (before the women retire). As I am approaching this age myself, I found some aspects of this a little daunting but I take heart in the fact that I am not like Marcia!!
Understated and poignant story of four very different people who work together and are fast approaching retirement. No one is looking forward to an uncertain future fraught with loneliness and isolation.

Beautifully written and gently paced. From the Boxall 1000 list.
Oct 26, 2016 rated it liked it
The 4 characters in this tale are in their 60s, but you'd think they were decades beyond that! I can't tell if Barbara Pym was writing this tongue in cheek or if the 1970s were really so different from today.

I really enjoyed the book despite the comments above. In my view, the characters are the reason to read Barbara Pym. But the story is also interesting; the writing is wonderful. This book was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1977.

I've found these recurrent themes in the 3 books I've re
Jun 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-fiction
A more intense Pym work than ever. Reading Pym is like someone sitting eye to eye with you and talking very honestly about the private thoughts, faults, and wishes of people. No baloney, no highly-built plots, no messiness. Her characters are aggravating, just like people we know. They aren't always attractive or sexy. They age and make mistakes and sometimes cannot get outside of themselves. And they often miss the brass ring, but are still ok in spite of it. And through these characters Barbar ...more
Aug 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As usual Pym is wonderful. This one is rather darker than most of her other novels. This is what Anita Brookner would be like if she had a sense of humor.
Zombie Kitten
Feb 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Although I can't totally relate with the stage of life that the characters are in, I did find them interesting, sympathetic, and I liked how it showed the different ways in which each character handled life changes and how they approached getting older.
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-fiction
I just re-read this for the second time and , to my surprise, it ended on a more upbeat note than I had remembered. Each character is sensitively portrayed and the manner in which they relate to one another rings true. They both know and care more about each other than they realize.

How each person puts meaning into his or her life is written in the understated and clear-eyed Pym manner. There is pathos, tenderness, and humor here and Quartet in Autumn reigns supreme for me over all Pym's other
Dec 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've decided to stop resisting the impulse to give Barbara Pym novels 5 stars, because let's face it, I love them. Despite her trademark lightness and wit, however, this is a fantastically grim and bleak novel. 4 friends -- or rather, colleagues, for they are barely friends -- approach retirement. Hilarious hijinx most decidedly do not ensue. They are difficult people; lonely, yet nervously hostile to foreigners and Black people, and mean-spirited towards each other; searching for intellectual a ...more
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-reviewed
This book made me want to go and stick my head in the oven - but in a good way! It's a simple, elegiac and darkly humorous novel about middle age in a certain era. The loneliness of the four main characters is palpable and the mundane and repressed existence of the post-war middle classes as they near retirement is vividly captured on every page. The humour lies in the subtle mockery of their lives, but not in mocking the characters themselves whom I feel the author secretly loves. As did I. Wri ...more
Nov 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. After a slow start I really started to feel for the characters. A sensitive look at their lonely lives struggling to deal with retirement, trying to reach out in their own way, some with more success than others. Although sad I felt there was hope at the end. I will definately be reading more Barbara Pym.
Mary Durrant
Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a lovely but sad novel.
Barbara Pym has such an eye for detail of the eccentricities of life and human frailties as we approach old age. Told with wit and charm.
I loved it!
Mary Lou
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've a feeling that Quartet in Autumn (what a lovely title!) is a novel that will stay with me for a long time, and will go up in my estimation more and more as time goes on. It's a quiet, slow-paced story. Pym's brilliance (and this is my first of her novels) lies in her ability to write about the mundane, not delving too deep, yet still managing to paint a clear picture of her characters in all their humanity. Also amazing is that there was a LOT to dislike about these people, and yet somehow ...more
This was a fascinating look at four co-workers in the autumn of their lives. Edwin, Norman, Letty and Marcia are all in their 60's and approaching retirement. They work together as clerks in a nondescript office, but each of them seems very alone. None of them have much of a life outside their jobs and they don't appear to be very close. In fact, they never even go to lunch together.

Pym slowly reels out the stories of each of the quartet. Edwin spends a lot of his time monitoring church activit
Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have to admit that I nearly chose not to read this book after learning that the four protagonists are middle-aged. Sort of like how Disney didn't want to back the movie "Up" when they didn't want to market old men action figures. And if you've seen "Up"-you know how wrong we both were.

It is very much one of those novels that every so often hits you with a line that makes you put the book down and stare at the ceiling. In other words, the best kind of novels.

I've never really read anything tha
Jun 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Vintage, wonderful Pym, but too close for comfort, as I'm getting up there in years myself. But is 60 is the new 40? Her characters are beautifully drawn, and out of four isolated individuals Pym creates a sort of bittersweetly harmonic symphony with a note of optimism at the end.
Oct 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book about four people, two women and two men, who work together in an office doing work that is never explained. The women, Marcia and Letty, are being laid off and will not be replaced, leaving the men, Erwin and Norman, to carry on alone. At first the men are dismayed but quickly accustom themselves to having the office to themselves.

Erwin and Norman decide to keep in touch with both women, and the plot proceeds. Not to include spoilers allow me to say that one of the women dies. The men ca
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A touching and restrained portrayal of loneliness. Work colleagues Letty, Marcia, Norman and Edwin are all approaching retirement and live alone in London. Pym examines their relationships with each other and with the wider world - neighbours, fellow churchgoers, adult family - and shines a light on ordinary but universal human feelings. This book is often sad or poignant, but it is not depressing as ultimately the potential for change and for human contact is present.

A deceptively simple book,
Jennifer (aka EM)
Love, love, love these little novels/novellas that pack a huge punch. This is prime Pym: quietly observational, poignant and compassionate, while also cut through with dark and eviscerating humour (the social worker!).

Marcia is the real and heartbreaking star here: defiant in her misfittery to the very end.

Themes: aging in a changing world, loneliness, the fragility and necessity of human connection.

Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
217 pages consisting of a cry of despair to make The Woman in the Dunes seem a cheery romp, only what should be a cry (or a wail, a scream) is insulated by the deliberate rejection of the imagination till it's nothing more than a muffle. While the book does show admirable attention to people on the edge of society, along with what seems realistic portrayals of their outer lives, my quarrel with Barbara Pym comes with my confusion about her intent, a confusion she does nothing to clear up especia ...more
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After studying English at St Hilda's College, Oxford, Barbara Pym served in the Women's Royal Naval Service during World War II. From 1950 to 1961, she published 6 novels, but her 7th was declined by the publisher due to a change in the reading public's tastes.

The turning point for Pym came with a famous article in the 1975 Times Literary Supplement in which two prominent names, Lord David Cecil a

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