An Unsuitable Attachment, Barbara Pym
I didn't enjoy this late novel of Barbara Pym's as much as the others I have read. It has two familiar settings, the north London parish of St. Basil, where Mark Ainger is the vicar; and a small specialized library where Ianthe Broome, one of his parishioners, works. In a switch, at least from the other Pym novels that I have read, it includes a trip to Rome with most of the main characters. There are seven of these, starting with Mark's wife Sophia. Really, I think I'd have to include their cat Faustina on the list as well. She is a source of tension in the vicarage and even with some of the parishioners.
Overall, the story felt a bit diffuse to me, switching constantly between so many different characters and points of view. The ending seemed even more ambiguous than usual. I am not sure that the attachment of the title is really that unsuitable. There is a five-year difference in age, on the woman's side, which doesn't seem like a big gap to me, but may have read differently when this story was originally written. On the other hand, I felt like I didn't know the male part of the attachment all that well; we just aren't given enough information about him, to judge his suitability.
I saw from a brief forward that this book was published after Barbara Pym's death. Her literary executor Hazel Holt edited the manuscript for publication. Ms. Holt wrote that the edits included cuts made according to discussions Pym had with her about the manuscript over the years. She made other cuts in sections that "have dated in ways [Pym] would have found unacceptable..." In looking over the other Pym novels that I still have unread, I discovered that three are also posthumous publications: A Few Green Leaves, Crampton Hodnet, and An Academic Question. A note at the start of An Academic Question states that Ms. Holt combined two manuscript versions to produce the published work. I find the question of posthumous publication a bit troubling. How can we be sure what the author would have wanted? Shouldn't it be clear what is the author's work, and what her editor's? I don't believe that Jane Austen would have published the versions of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion that her brother Henry did, though I am glad to have them. I am looking forward with some trepidation to two posthumous novels by favorite authors, Elizabeth Peters and Terry Pratchett.
I found the multitude of characters in this book bewildering enough that I made a cast list. Then when one, Rupert Stonebird, hosts a dinner party about half-way through, I knew I had met one of his guests before, in an earlier book - I just couldn't remember which one. I went looking for a list or chart of the characters that appear across different books, but the only resource I found was an academic article that I can't access. At least from the abstract I was able to identify the guest, Everard Bone, whom I first met in Excellent Women. So I decided to start my own, non-spoilery version, because I can't resist that kind of literary puzzle, and honestly, trying to remember from book to book will drive me batty. If the information is easily available elsewhere, please let me know in the comments or in an email (email@example.com). Please also feel free to add information on other characters not listed below - without major spoilers if possible. I will update this list and also post it in the "Pages" section. It's not a long list so far, because I haven't read all of her books yet.
Everard Bone: character in Excellent Women; appears in An Unsuitable Attachment
Julian Malory: character in Excellent Women; appears in A Glass of Blessings
Winifred Malory: character in Excellent Women; appears in A Glass of Blessings
Mildred Latham: central character in Excellent Women; mentioned in An Unsuitable Attachment; brief appearance in Jane and Prudence
Prudence Bates: central character in Jane and Prudence; mentioned in A Glass of Blessings
Rocky Napier: character in Excellent Women; mentioned in A Glass of Blessings
Wilf Bason: character in A Glass of Blessings; mentioned in An Unsuitable Attachment
Wilmet Forsyth: central character in A Glass of Blessings; cameo (with husband Rodney & friends) in Jane & Prudence