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Publisher's Summary

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym's richest and most amusing high comedies. This is Barbara Pym's world at its funniest.

Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those excellent women - the smart, supportive, repressed women whom men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors - anthropologist Helena Napier; Helen's handsome, dashing husband, Rocky; and Julian Malory, the vicar next door - the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

©2016 Barbara Pym (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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Still Waters Run Deep

I love Barbara Pym's novels and have hoped for ages that they might show up here on Audible. Insightful, amusing and skillfully written. A complete treat. To me Entwistle's narration was perfectly timed. Pym's stories are so balanced and such well thought out slices of life that I find them comforting and stabilizing in an odd way. If your world has turned topsy-turvy there is nothing like curling up with one of her beautiful books to set everything right. I join other reviewers in their praise and hope that the rest of the Pym collection become available here soon. Wonderful. Hurry up Audible!

85 of 91 people found this review helpful

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  • Holly
  • ALEXANDRIA, VA, United States
  • 05-07-16

At long last...Barbara Pym!

Every year I have begged Audible to acquire the works of Barbara Pym, one of the most delightful and intelligent writers to ever entertain a reader, after a fruitless but ever hopeful search. Suddenly, she is here! Though "Excellent Women" is not my very favorite, it most certainly is a complete gem. I cannot recommend it to you strongly enough. Despite having read the paperback yearly, and listened to my aging cassettes twice yearly, I have already listened to this twice since acquiring it this week. Please give Excellent Women a try! And I will add that it is beautifully narrated. Thank you so very much Audible, for finally offering Barbara Pym!

47 of 50 people found this review helpful

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  • Carole T.
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 03-20-16

Treasure of Intelligence and Sly Wit

Barbara Pym has long been a favorite of mine - I have all her books, and am so happy to see Audible finally offering one of the best of them, "Excellent Women".

Pym is not to everyone's taste. This is a book where very little happens, but a lot is going on! Many people compare her to Jane Austen, and I think that's fair. "Excellent Women" and other Pym novels take the reader back to another era - post WWII England, where there are a lot of 'spinsters-of-a-certain-age' living seemingly petty and uninspired lives in their neighborhoods and villages.

Because they are unlikely ever to marry, consider themselves gentile, and find no chance for a career path in a "man's world", these women find not much to do but gossip, devote themselves to good causes, and be very involved in Church functions. Yet, make no mistake, Barbara Pym has great respect for "Excellent Women" and portrays them with keen intelligence and sly wit. Like Jane Austen's characters and Jane Marple, these seemingly pointless and often forgotten women are fine and often brutal observers who know a thing or two about fundamental human nature!

If you appreciate a good sense of the ridiculous and an author whose intelligence and wit sneak up on you, give "Excellent Women" a try. Jayne Entwistle does a very good job of narrating the lives of these excellent - and wryly hilarious - women.

64 of 70 people found this review helpful

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A lovely story about nothing much....

A lovely story about nothing much except life. Initially it may seem a bit dull, because there are no big moments, but isn't life mostly like that ? And Jayne Entwistle is a divine narrator.

29 of 32 people found this review helpful

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Superb Pairing of Author and Narrator

My Audible library includes almost 130 books, and this is the first time I have felt compelled to write a review. I do so now because I have so enjoyed this lovely comedy of manners read by my favorite narrator. I am eager for more Barbara Pym read by Jane Entwhistle. I will buy them all.

And, while I am at it, how about the complete unabridged Lucia books by E F Benson? They are works of comic genius that fans of Barbara Pym will no doubt delight in.

42 of 47 people found this review helpful

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Barbara Pym = Jane Austen + Samuel Beckett????????

Any additional comments?

Audible, please make more Barbara Pym books available to U.S. listeners!!!! I see Some Tame Gazelle, A Glass of Blessings, Jane and Prudence, and Less Than Angels are available on Audible UK only. When can we in the U.S. hear them too? I’ve listened to enough of this one to tell the reader does justice to the Pym and her characters’ voices—and to the dread that lurks at the margins of social conventions in Pym-world. It’s a world where a woman who questions whether it’s really necessary to drink tea at a church meeting is seriously deviant. I can’t wait to listen to the whole thing.

My highfalutin commentary: Barbara Pym’s characters occupy the same social, psychological, and cultural spaces as the subjects of “Eleanor Rigby.” They deal with existential loneliness and gender-bound extraneous-person isolation with more humor than Eleanor and Father McKenzie, however. You could almost think Pym wrote light, comic novels—if you also classify the Bill Evans Trio’s Waltz for Debby as lounge music. Pym herself was cast off by the British publishing industry in her prime, and couldn’t get a novel published for almost 20 years. So in her later books especially there’s a real undercurrent of discontent and forlon-ness.

If you love mid-century British women novelists, vote with your credits and download Excellent Women. Then maybe Audible will get the message! BTW her later novels would make gripping audio, too—The Sweet Dove Died and Quartet in Autumn.

31 of 36 people found this review helpful

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Excellent Women 🌹Wonderful Book!

I read this book in 1980. Listening to it 36 years later was a treat. As I did my needlework I listened to Mildred's story. When I read it in 1980 I was Mildred's age in the book. Now, much older, I looked at it in a different light. She hoped to be an "excellent woman". She was and I hope I have lived a life to be able to say the same. Is this book dated? Perhaps. But it was an interesting story of single women in the early 1950's, after the war. I highly recommend this book and all the other books by the treasured Barbara Pym.

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Beth
  • United States
  • 07-24-16

Perfectly Pym

A mid-20th century novel narrated by Mildred, a 30-ish single woman in London, who busies herself with charitable work and helping her friends, taking an interest in all around her. Barbara Pym's gentle humor and social commentary will appeal to readers who enjoy Jane Austen and similar novelists, who reveal their characters through a focus on the small details of living. Delightful!

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Excellent Women, Excellent Book, Excellent Reader

As the first reports of success at Pearl Harbor filtered back to Japan, (stay with me here) Admiral Yamamoto was, according to historian Ian Toll, “stoic, expressionless”, disappointed that Admiral Nagumo, in charge of the attack, had withheld a third wave of planes. Less stoically, Yamamoto’s chief of staff fumed that Nagumo’s decision proved his, “contentment with a humble lot in life”.

I could have used an example of that kind of swaggering, world-beating contempt from any period of history in any country; it just happens that I’m reading about the Pacific War right now. And I recognized the chief of staff’s comment as the perfect antipodal contrast to the spirit of Excellent Women.

This isn’t a book about humility or service or bearing with others. It’s a book about humility and service and bearing with others with an attitude that finally transcends mere resignation and attains the essential wisdom that such a life can be—and indeed is—a full one.

It’s a beautiful, subtly funny, mildly sad story that flies in the face of most of our modern illusions about ourselves. Like most of our lives, there is no high drama. Jobs, so far from being a means of fulfilling ourselves, are just jobs. Even the anthropologists, people you’d think would be imbued with some sense of a greater mission, seem slightly bored with their papers and meetings. The people they spend their time observing are about as scintillating as the people we spend our time observing in the book.

True, the novel is set amidst the diminished expectations of post-WWII England, but even without a war these people would be no more than life-sized. Even the character who served did his time as an admiral’s social secretary in the Mediterranean.

I once heard someone say, “nothing happens in Jane Austen’s novels”. I couldn’t agree less, but I have to admit that even less happens in this novel. These life-sized characters and their approaches to doing something dramatic and definite—walking out on a husband or marrying a widow—never come to anything. Even when our narrator decides to do her hair differently she’s told, just a few steps from her front door, that it looked better the way she had it.

Yet for all the stasis, by the end our narrator suspects that her life is a full one. And, by the end, something has changed. Characters have entered and exited each other’s lives—and our life—and left an impression. The near-impossibility of defining that impression is what makes this story so true to life. It may be far-fetched, but I can’t help thinking of Raymond Chandler and his contempt for detective stories that wrap up all the loose ends in the final chapter. No one finds love in the final chapter of this story, but no one is heartbroken, either.

For years, my wife tried to get me to read Barbara Pym. I’ve wanted to myself, she being a novelist championed by one of my favorite poets, Philip Larkin. But due to some ancient family curse—or perhaps the bone structure of my head—I lack the patience for prose fiction. Audiobooks have gone a long way to remedying this deficiency in my makeup; one can only hope that Audible will offer more Barbara Pym soon.

And if they do, one can hope they give the assignment to Jane Entwistle.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Barbara Pym is Finally Available from Audible

What did you love best about Excellent Women?

I am a big Pym fan so I pretty much like everything about her novels.

What did you like best about this story?

The humor, which is extremely dry—there is a lot going on between the lines.

Have you listened to any of Jayne Entwistle’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not but I would. She is very good.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I listened to it all in one day, but not in one sitting.

Any additional comments?

I am glad that one of Pym's books is finally available from Audible. The rest of them are out there and have been recorded. Please, please, please release Some Tame Gazelle, Jane and Prudence, Less than Angels, A Glass of Blessings, No Fond Return of Love, Quartet in Autumn, The Sweet Dove Died, A Few Green Leaves, An Unsuitable Attachment, Crampton Hodnet, An Academic Question and Civil to Strangers. I will immediately buy them all.

25 of 31 people found this review helpful