My rating: 4 of 5 stars
By far my favorite Pym to date - I guess 4 stars has a range. (I've also read Excellent Women and Jane and Prudence)
In this book, Pym plays with book lovers, writers, observers. Dulcie ("sweet") and Viola (given name: "Violet") become unlikely roommates and companions. Dulcie becomes an interested observer of one of the speakers, Aylwin Forbes. Most of the book is her observations, seeking information, and interest in anyone involved with his life. Learning about him without really knowing him. We see them interact rarely.
Pym talks quite a lot about watching life from the outside. Dulcie resides in the suburbs, not in the midst of the action. She works on her own terms from home, not an office. "It seemed -- though [Dulcie] did not say this to Viola -- so much safer and more comfortable to live in the lives of other people -- to observe their joys and sorrows with detachment as if one were watching a film or a play." (pg 108)
Dulcie, while detached from real life in many ways, is a detail person. Probably why she is good at her work and can do it on her own terms (we almost never see this). She is systematic on her quest to understand Aylwin Forbes, expanding her circle of knowledge from what is printed to his estranged wife to his brother and eventually to his mother and father.
'People blame one for dwelling on trivialities,'" said Dulcie, 'but life is made up of them. And if we've had one great sorrow or one great love, then who shall blame us if we only want the trivial things?'
Viola murmured something, but Dulcie knew that she did not really understand. Lately she had begun to admit to herslef that Viola had turned out to be a disappointment. In a sense, Dulcie felt as if she had created her and that she had not come up to expectations, like a character in a book who had failed to come alive, and how many people in life, if one transferred them to fiction just as they were, would fail to do that! (pg 167-168)
That quote continues from Dulcie's love of the detail into her view of others. Pym has Dulcie seeing people as though reading a novel and explaining to us as those reading a novel how we can see characters as more or less than they are.
One final quote:
'It's impossible to imagine some things,' said Viola wearily. She was thinking of the little bottle of gin in the bedroom cupboard.
'The extraordinary thing is,' Dulcie went on, 'that these things [details about Aylwin's life] have always been so, and yet it's only our knowing about them that has made them real.'
'You could say that about anythying,' Viola objected.
'It's the fourth dimension, isn't it, or something like that. I wish sometimes that I knew about philosophy. Did you see that portrait on the staircase?' Dulcie was quickly down to earth again. 'Couldn't you see a likeness to Aylwin there?' (pg 193-194, emphasis mine)
There's a neighbor in Dulcie's suburb, a man from Brazil, who is often observing the goings on and intrigued by the Englishness of it all. There are flowers in almost every scene. There are other romances that could be discussed. There are references to Mansfield Park, my favorite Austen. The book has so much in it and is so beautifully written. Still not a lot of plot, but an enjoyable read and fun to consider.
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