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Quartet in Autumn

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  2,611 ratings  ·  354 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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3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,611 ratings  ·  354 reviews

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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
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
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)
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: n-reino-unido, 5e
"No meio da vida estamos no meio da morte..."

Letty, Marcia, Edwin e Norman são quatro sexagenários - duas mulheres e dois homens - que trabalham na mesma empresa. Um é viúvo os outros são solteiros. Vivem sozinhos; dois numa casa própria e dois num quarto alugado. Reservados e solitários, a ligação entre eles é a usual entre colegas de trabalho, pouco conhecendo uns dos outros. Com o aproximar do momento da aposentação, surge a angústia do que fazer de tanto tempo livre, além de vaguear e espera
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.
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
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
Tiffany Reisz
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Such a lovely hopeful heartbreaking novel. I wish I'd read Barbara Pym before.
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!!
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Mar 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
QUARTET IN AUTUMN. (1978). Barbara Pym. *****.
This was Ms. Pym’s first book after being ignored for sixteen years by English publishing houses. She was resurrected after an article appeared in the TLS written by two critics in answer to the question: “Who was the most neglected writer of the past fifty years?” (or words to that effect). They both named Pym. This novel was published soon after that article, and was short-listed for the Booker Prize that year. It is the story of four elderly peop
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
Gláucia Renata
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Esse livro estava há anos nas minhas metas e tinha dois grandes motivos para lê-lo: foi indicação de minha amiga skoober Marta, grande leitora que sempre me apresenta livros e autores dos quais nunca ouvi falar. E a autora é uma das preferidas de meu queridinho McCall Smith; é sempre citada em seus livros.
A autora inglesa teve dificuldade em publicar seus livros (10 no total) e num suplemento literário foi considerada a escritora mais subestimada do século. Outros críticos comparam seu estilo ao
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
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.
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!
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
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
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fiction - British. Paperback. Purchased at Title Wave Books in Anchorage, Alaska.

Unknown to most Americans, I am lucky to have several friends who are fans of Ms. Pym and introduced me to her. Her style of novel is different from more modern novels, subtle, less based on action and technique but focused on a solid plot and well-developed characters. I was surprised to learn that this book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in the UK and was considered Ms. Pym’s comeback novel, unable to get pu
Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Dee by: Elliza
I was suprised by the following review. Eliza had recommnded this book to me and described it as a "quiet" book especially after The Good Omen. Indeed it was a quiet book but it did whisper to me. It seems Ms. Pym couldn't get the book published. I wonder why? If you've read the book do you have any idea why it wasn't published right away? An interesting aside, the paperback I read was so old it literally fell apart while I was reaing the book. It ended up in little piles in my bedroom (no I'm n ...more
Mar 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
My friend Rebekah recommended Barbara Pym on her blog recently, and as she is a sharp reader with exquisite taste, I had to discover Pym for myself. I had never even heard of Pym, but after reading Quartet in Autumn and Excellent Women I can see why some regard her as the most underrated British author of the 20th century.

Quartet in Autumn tells the story of four retirement-age office mates in 1970s London. Marcia, Letty, Edwin, and Norman have little in common other than their shared office sp
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Don’t be fooled by any tranquil overtones of the ‘Autumn’ in the title. Quartet had me gasping with shock and astonished laughter at nearly every page. Set in seventies London the book traces the everyday lives of four lonely individuals in the autumn of their years. Pym has managed to write a book that contains barely any likeable characters but that is still a page-turner, and this daring has ensured a work of painstaking (and painful!) observation of human nature. It’s an uncomfortable read, ...more
#1977Club - April 2018

‘Quartet in Autumn’ is one of Pym’s more memorable novels because of its theme of growing old and the loneliness and isolation that can occur with ageing. But what makes this heavy theme bearable is Pym’s incredible ability to add humour and lightness to even the most bleak of topics. I found this novel intelligent, moving and incredibly relevant with our social and political issues we face today.

For a full review, do check out my most recent blog post:

Melissa Coyle
My dad used to say, "Bad news, Good news." So as one of the foursome passes away, will this be good news or bad news to the remaining lonely threesome. This book takes a look at people who live in a small world without too many friends or relatives and how filling up their time in retirement could be a time of apprehension. A short read, moving slowly but deliberately and decisively towards the end goal.
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.
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After studying English at St Hilda's College, Oxford, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service during World War II.

The turning point for Pym came with a famous article in the Times Literary Supplement in which two prominent names, Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, nominated her as the most underrated writer of the century. Pym and Larkin had kept up a private correspondence over a period o
“She had always been an unashamed reader of novels.” 48 likes
“One did not drink sherry before the evening, just as one did not read a novel in the morning.” 5 likes
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