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:
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. ( )