Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym

Image from Amazon

This comic novel of manners evokes postwar London in shoddy details, dreary events, petty gossip and brilliant prose.

The story is told from the point of view of Wilmet Forsyth, young wife of Rodney. Wilmet does not work, but seeks diversion in the doings of her High Anglican Church, St. Luke's, which seems to contribute more to fashion rivalry and social climbing than spiritual comfort.

As the handsome young Father Ransome enjoys a glass of sherry with Wilmet, Barbara Pym gives him one of the novel's finest comic lines, "...it's the trivial things that matter, isn't it?"

This comment follows a story of jealousy over cassocks. The minister who owns the garment in question fiercely resents his colleague putting it on, even by mistake, as "it was specially made for him at an ecclesiastical tailor's."

Wilmet and her husband Rodney live contentedly in the house of his mother Sybil, close to his work at the Ministry. Taking a Portuguese class with her mother-in-law, Wilmet nurses a crush on the instructor, Piers Longridge, the brother of her old friend Rowena.

The two women were WRENS together in the war. Now Rowena and her husband Harry have children. Rowena worries about her brother Piers, who is handsome, but moody and inclined to drink too much, and asks her friend to keep and eye on him. Wilmet lunches with Piers a couple of times and begins to imagine that he's in love with her.

With Rowena's knowledge and approval, she also lunches with Harry, who flirts with her. Idly, she goes for tea at the clergy house with the main object of seeing the interior of this all-male household. There the snobbish male housekeeper shows her the old priest's study, littered with valuable art treasures. One of these is a Faberge egg, which he blatantly steals.

In a further adventure, Wilmet finds herself donating blood at a clinic located in a crypt. She also makes friends with the excellent but dowdy Mary, a dutiful church worker who needs her help to shop for more attractive clothing.

Through the course of her mainly idle days, Wilmet manages to fulfill her ambition of seeing inside Piers's flat. She invites his unusual roommate to tea, and learns that Mary has a surprising future in store. Experiencing these and other small daily dramas, our protagonist discovers something unexpected about her mother-in-law, her husband, and even herself.

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