Monday, January 11, 2010

A Glass of Blessings

When it comes to packing for a holiday I can do most of it in about ten minutes flat, but it takes me days to decide how many books to take and what they should be. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly fast reader which is just as well or I'd struggle to carry my bags, I have to take at least one more book than I have any real chance of reading, and there needs to be a balance to suit reading moods. So for a week away any less than five books would have been unthinkable,  eventually I decided and packed the chosen five, only bought one more when I was away (snowed in or it would probably have been more) and read four so numbers wise I got it about right – had we not been able to get away I would have been okay for a few more days...

Harder to judge is the right balance of books to see me through a week. Had I taken Wilkie Collins ‘Armadale’ as originally planned I would probably have got the balance about right but Robertson Davies threw a spanner in the works. I couldn’t resist reading ‘The Cunning Man’ straight away but I followed it with Barbara Pym’s ‘A Glass of Blessings’ which didn’t do Barbara any favours at all. Pym was also dealing with Anglo Catholicism, complicated personal relationships, and skirting around the edges of same sex relationships. I found it very hard to adjust from one to the other and consequently found it hard to warm to ‘A Glass of Blessings’ in the same way that I have with her other books partly because it wasn’t Davies.

It was perhaps a slight case of over anticipation as well. I love Pym when she writes about single women looking for ways to find fulfilment be it through church or marriage or friendship. Nobody can touch her when it comes to putting a mirror up to the small disappointments and pre-occupations of life – how to fill the days and make dinner stretch for company. ‘A Glass of Blessings’ is a different proposition, it details the marriage of well to do Wilmet Forsyth. Wilmet and her husband live with his mother in her house have no children and a more than comfortable income – with no responsibilities Wilmet is bored. Still fairly young (33) she’s looking for mail attention and starts a harmless flirtation with her best friends brother. Her best friend’s husband tries to start a slightly less harmless flirtation with Wilmet. Neither affair comes to much partly because the brother finally reveals he prefers men. Meanwhile it transpires that Wilmet’s hitherto steady husband Rodney has almost had an affair of his own with Prudence Bates (last met in 'Jane and Prudence').

So what didn’t I take to? Something in the air of middle class sexual sophistication coupled with a general lack of purpose for Wilmet who at 33 is appalled at the idea of having to set up a home away from her mother in law slightly alienated me. As a much smaller niggle this is the first Pym I’ve read where characters from other novels had walk on parts with the end result that I was reminded of books I’d enjoyed far more.

Despite all of that I still enjoyed this book, found myself laughing over it, and reading bits out of it to my (very patient) partner. I’m going to give it another try some time, and will be running my thoughts past the Pym fans in my reading group to see if they can show me the error of my ways.


  1. Wilmet is a harder to love character than some other Barbara Pym characters, I agree. What made A Glass of Blessings for me was the light fingered housekeeper! I've just had my first struggle with a Barabara Pym - No Fond Return of Love. It has a similar quite well off heroine and this case virtually stalks the man who has taken her fancy.

  2. I liked the light fingered house keeper as well. I think Wilmet is probably the first Pym heroine I havn't been able to empathise with, normally even if I don't really like them I can at least feel a certain amount of sympathy. Wilmet seemed likable but I found her hard to care about.

  3. I have just read Excellent Women by Barbara Pym which I really enjoyed. It was my first Pym and you are right when you say she is great at holding a mirror up to life's disappointments and pre-occupations. This is a really interesting review, I think I will try Jane and Prudence next.

  4. How curious...I also didn't warm to a Glass of Blessings either though I loved the other 2 novels by Pym that I've read, Excellent Women and Jane and Prudence.

  5. I'm on the brink of getting a Sony Reader because of the new weight restrictions on planes! But I'd probably get sand in it.

  6. I would be so afraid of loosing something like that, or of the batteries running out at just the wrong moment, or being struck by lightening or any of the horrible things that seem to happen to electrical things around me.