Laura (laura0218) wrote,

Quartet in Autumn

Quartet in Autumn
Barbara Pym
218 pages

Marcia, Letty, Norman, and Edwin are four 60-something London co-workers, a quartet in the autumn of their lives. Each lives alone; their contact with one another is their primary social interaction. Each character has developed odd habits, sometimes to combat loneliness, and sometimes as an unwanted side effect of solitude. Edwin spends his free time attending services at churches all over the city, obsessing about various holy days and the quality of clergy. Marcia hoards canned food and used milk bottles, and compulsively organizes the items on her shelves. Despite their need for each other, each person maintains a certain distance, reluctant to intrude or interfere.

One day, both Letty and Marcia retire. This event affects each character in remarkable ways. Norman and Edwin are expected to take on Letty and Marcia's work, and it is clear that their department is being phased out. Letty chooses to move out of her current rooms when a new landlord arrives. She rents a room from an even older woman, recommended by Edwin. Marcia continues to live independently, despite some health issues. The four colleagues all live close enough to keep in touch, and yet all feel too uncomfortable to "force" the relationship. They meet once for lunch and yet, despite warning signs, do not adequately look out for each other

This is a quiet story of aging and friendship, accented by Pym's trademark gentle wit and satire. Her portraits of each character often had me snickering, even during the more poignant parts of the story. And yet I also found myself thinking about the characters as I went about my day ... almost as if they were real people. This is a departure from Pym's more light-hearted, humorous work, but the kind of satisfying read that takes over your thoughts for a while. ( )

Tags: 1001, review
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