Sunday, January 8, 2012

Thoughts: Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

In the fictional village of Some Tame Gazelle, spinsters, clerics, and eccentrics are the order of the day. Fifty-something sisters Harriet and Belinda Bede live a comfortable, settled existence. Belinda, the quieter of the pair, has for years been secretly in love with the town's pompous (and married) archdeacon, whose odd sermons leave members of his flock in muddled confusion. Harriet, meanwhile, a bubbly extrovert, fends off proposal after proposal of marriage. The arrival of Mr. Mold and Bishop Grote disturb the peace of the village and leave the sisters wondering if they'll ever return to the order of their daily routines. - via Goodreads

Barbara Pym is often called an ‘underrated writer,’ and, after reading Some Tame Gazelle, I could see why. The book is set in a sleepy English county with bumbling characters, and a lot of comedic situations thrown in. The plot is practically nonexistent, and the whole book feels like a compilation of snapshots from the lives of the characters. It is almost easy to miss the depth of this book.

I knew what the characters were thinking, but Pym shielded their thoughts from me at the most critical of moments. When you’re wondering what the hell the archdeacon is thinking about Belinda, Pym starts off on another tangent about Harriet. I think this is deliberate on Pym’s part, adding an undercurrent of sadness to the book. By not revealing the archdeacon’s thoughts, we are left to wonder ‘what if’ like Belinda who has been in love with him for over thirty years.
When we grow older, we lack the fine courage of youth and even an ordinary task like making a pullover for somebody we love or used to love seems too dangerous to be undertaken.
The fine courage of youth? What is that? I’m twenty-years-old and I’m supposed to have the fine courage of youth, and I have no freaking idea what that is. I am a coward when it comes to emotions. I’m the girl who just watches everybody else fall in and out of love around her, too scared to participate.

If I compare myself to a spinster in the English countryside, will you think I’m weird? Probably. Despite the differences in our ages and background, I saw myself in Belinda. I have almost no “youthful courage” to speak of, and Belinda is almost exactly the same. She has loved the same man for thirty years, but has never really done anything about it. To quote Meg Cabot: “Unrequited love is all right in books and things, but in real life, it completely sucks.”
“Edith looked down complacently at her own fingers, gnarled and strained. “Not in the country,” she said, “though Connie’s always fussing about hers, rubbing them with lotion and all that sort of nonsense. I always tell her that nobody’s like to want to hold her hand now, so why bother.”
Belinda thought this rather unkind and sympathized with Connie. It wasn’t exactly that one hoped to have one’s hand held…
But that’s exactly it. We all want our hands to be held. We all want to wake up in the morning, and know that, when you walk down the stairs to eat crappy cereal for breakfast, someone will be there waiting for you. For me, that companionship, that sureness that someone will be THERE, is the whole point of the novel.

The love of Belinda’s life might have ended up with someone else, but I think her real soulmate is her sister Harriet. Men come and go in their lives, but the sisters always have each other.

While looking up Barbara Pym on the Internet, I learned that she wrote Some Tame Gazelle while she was a student at Oxford, imagining her and her sister in twenty years. Know what the funny thing is? Barbara Pym never married, and actually ended up living with her sister in a quiet English village. I guess life really does imitate art. Maybe I should start penning my own novel where a character who somewhat resembles me ends up with an Ian Somerhalder look-a-like...


Sam (Tiny Library) said...

What a lovely review, Darlyn. I liked that you made it more personal than usual.

This book sounds interesting too, I've never read anything by Barbara Pym before.

Trisha said...

Great review! I have to admit that if I've ever heard of Pym, I've forgotten.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I've neer read Barbara Pym, though I think I have one or two of her books floating around. I also enjoyed how personal you made this review--I feel like I know you a bit better now!

Aarti said...

I actually think the only Pym book I've read - Excellent Women - had much the same effect on me that this one had on you. I could see myself becoming the main character in another 20 years, and so the pain and isolation she felt really hit me.

bibliophilica said...

Hi Darlyn,
I'd never heard of this author either; your review gives me a good glimpse of what she must be like, though. It's also nice when we find the book we're reading has some elements that seem tailor made for, or speaking to us in particular.


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