This is a fast read but it has a lot of depth to it. I enjoyed it and it was the kind of book that surprises you and is counter to what you were expecting, in a good way. Excellent Women was a little outside of my normal reading pattern in that I’m not always a literary fiction type person, but this turned out to be more of a comedy of manners novel than the literary accolades suggested. And it’s good to broaden one’s reading horizons!
Excellent Women follows Mildred Lathbury, a spinster who lives alone in post-WWII London. She has a structured life built around her work for a charity that helps gentlewomen in need, her church, and her school friends. When two new tenants move into the rooms upstairs, they bring upheaval with them and take Mildred out of her comfort zone.
All the reviews and copy describe this as a hilarious novel, which I didn’t find to be the case — I actually read it as more of a novel with a core of deep sadness, and a comic edge to it. But most of the emotion I felt from it was the sad bemusement of being overlooked and underestimated, even by yourself. Pym conveys the constant diminution of Mildred from the other people in her life and how they ignore her words and desires in a very effective manner. The power of this book to me was the care it took with characterization and all the details that seem to be so small but make up a realistic and layered life. The arc of the book is very satisfying and the tone is gentle and assured. The way that the community is woven throughout the novel is really lovely and realistic, and Mildred has a positive spirit that makes you really root for her.
Recommended for anyone interested in British history or comedy of manners type novels. Maybe you’ll find it funnier than I did!
No real warnings beyond sexism typical for the period.