Laura (laura0218) wrote,

No Fond Return of Love

No Fond Return of Love
Barbara Pym
261 pages

There are various ways of mending a broken heart, but perhaps going to a learned conference is one of the more unusual. (p. 1)

How can you not love a book that opens with a sentence like that? Dulcie Mainwaring works as an "indexer," preparing indices for scholarly texts. After her fiance breaks off their engagement, she attends a weekend conference for those in similar professions. There she meets Viola Dace, an older single woman like Dulcie. Viola has done indexing work for conference lecturer Aylwin Forbes, an association with romantic overtones that may or may not have been a catalyst for the recent breakup of Aylwin's marriage. Dulcie develops a bit of a crush on Aylwin, although he is barely aware of her existence. After the conference she keeps in touch with Viola, who later moves in with Dulcie after difficulties with her landlord. Their shared fascination with Aylwin, and the love of facts and detail that make them good indexers, lead them to investigate details of Aylwin's life and even spy on him a little bit. They discover he has a brother who's a vicar, and attend services at the brother's church. Dulcie visits Aylwin's neighborhood and finds herself at a jumble sale hosted by Aylwin's wife and mother-in-law. It sounds psychopathic, but it's actually a brilliant comedy of manners at which Barbara Pym excels.

Pym is also masterful at combining humor, irony, and pathos. Here, Dulcie observes her sister Charlotte, who is living vicariously through her 18-year-old daughter Laurel's independent life in London:
It was rather sad, Dulcie thought, that an apparently happily married woman should confess to a secret hankering for such a life. And yet, stealing a glance at her brother-in-law, at that moment preoccupied with classifying a pile of Masai warriors' spears and shields left to the local museum by a retired colonial servant, she could appreciate that perhaps a desire for escape was not so surprising. (p. 112)

Pym's characters are often middle-aged single women who, while not feminists, are competent and sensible. The women are usually in control of their own lives and events -- no helpless doormats here -- and things usually work out well in the end. As No Fond Return of Love progresses, the lives of Dulcie, Viola, Aylwin and other characters intertwine in delightful ways and the ending is most satisfying. Barbara Pym's books are excellent comfort reads best taken curled up in a blanket with a nice cup of tea. ( )
Tags: review

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