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Quartet in Autumn [Paperback]

Barbara Pym
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 2000
This is Pym's poignant story of four elderly single people who work in the same office. Their work is their chief point of contact with each other and with the outside world. When the two women retire, the equilibrium of the quartet is upset. Quartet in Autumn is a gently compelling story of human dignity in the midst of hopelessness.

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Quartet in Autumn is one of the books Pym wrote during the 15 years when no one would publish her, and perhaps the same kind of balance between hopelessness and inner strength helped shape this novel's story about four friends in an office nearing the age of retirement. They are people who have lived unspectacularly, but who have conjured a sense of themselves from the quartet's unity. Things start to change when two of them retire. Pym maps this ordinary strangeness of life with her particular genius for brilliant psychological insight and quiet humor that never strains for effect. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

When the Times Literary Supplement asked critics to name the most underrated authors of the past 75 years, only one was mentioned twice: Barbara Pym. Barbara Pym wrote nine novels, including An Unsuitable Attachment, Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died. She died in 1980.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable amazing novel Feb. 2 2009
This is the darkest of Pym's books, written when she was older and perhaps, wiser. It doesn't have the funny, frivolous tone of the earlier works. The writing is spare and to the point. It describes the lonliness and lack of connectedness of four office workers about to retire; most of them without family or close relatives. Most of them are socially disfunctional, and at at least one of them, is actually mentally ill (Marcia). There is a disturbing undertone of loss and failure, yet it is also a story of human dignity and survival. These people are survivors in spite of all that happens to them. There is commentary here about the social service network and how it fails people, the failure of the Church to help meaningfully (Father Gellibrand) and the distance between friends. At the end there is a modest sense that these people will do the best they can with the circumstances they find themselves in, and we wish them well. Pym had survived cancer and a stroke before she wrote this and I think her experiences contributed profoundly to this book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Deeply depressing! April 12 2009
By Phoebe
The saddest and bleakest of all Pym's fiction, "A Quartet in Autumn" cast a pall over my day. While her other novels enable me to see the humor and irony in everyday life, I found this book too depressing to enjoy. With a central character who, apparently, starves herself to death, the novel brings insight into the lives of very lonely people, but it is too dark a vision for my taste.
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By Monika
What happens to people as they grow older in a society that does not value the elderly? This is the critical question Barbara Pym addresses in her novel, Quartet in Autumn. She takes us into the lives of four aging co-workers on the brink of retirement; they are no longer of use to anyone and their department will be phased out as soon as they leave the company. Marcia, Letty, Edwin, and Norman are all alone, without friends or relatives to care for them in their later lives. Each of them is terribly lonely, yet they are too stubborn and ashamed to turn to one another for friendship.
The novel is moving, and sometimes downright scary. Indeed, Pym shows us that such a fate could easily belong to anyone in today's society. She makes it readily apparent that the resources and aid available to the elderly are insufficient. Few people truly care what happens to those who are no longer of any great use to the modern world. It is a bleak prospect, and this book serves as an important warning. The book is also hopeful, however. Ultimately the main characters do manage to reach out to one another, and this is heartwarming. It shows us the value in cultivating relationships with others.
I read Quartet in Autumn for a women's studies course, and while it is not particularly exciting or enthralling, it is quite thought-provoking. It's an easy, short read (roughly 200 pages), and uses plain, to-the-point language. Pym really pares it down to the issues at hand and throws in no extraneous fluff. I would recommend this work to just about anyone (regardless of age - it's message is equally important to the old and young alike). It raises awareness of a very important, yet seldom looked at aspect of the social world of today.
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...society in the late 1970's in London. The "quartet" is four older middle-class, working people, two women and two men around the age of sixty. They face the challenge of being without spouses or truly close relatives other than each other. Pym writes of the tragic circumstances of being condescended to by well-meaning, irritating young social workers who only seem to alienate these pensioners. Though the loneliness is obvious; its solution isn't sloppily described with a simple, conventional ending. I couldn't put it down.
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I was the only member of my book club who liked this. I felt it was an interesting book if for no other reason than the illustration that sometimes what DOESN'T happen is as important as what DOES. The tale of four lonely people who no one in the world. They can't recall how they got here and seem to not know where to go from here. A thought-provoking book. Many in the group found this depressing, and it could be. However, still worth a look.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I was amazed March 15 2001
Every Barbara Pym novel is excellent. And, from most of them, you know what to expect: spinsters and curates and cakes and jumble sales.
But this one is about four people, old, and getting older, each one, in their own way. And this one is not just excellent: it is amazing.
The arch gaze which Pym usually trained on comfortable, mundane, church society, is, in Quartet, focused upon eccentricity: the growing manifestation of uniqueness which signifies old age. With a sensitivity which is unusual in the literature of any age, let alone that of this century, Pym follows the meanderings of her protagonists' minds,through their every day activities. Gradually, she derives an astounding narrative about the development of individual perspectives as they are colored by time.
It's a slow novel, a careful one, and one which turns Barbara Pym's penchant for wry insight into a sympathetic tribute to the human psyche.
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