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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

Most helpful customer reviews
By Monika
Format:Paperback
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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5.0 out of 5 stars I was amazed March 15 2001
Format:Paperback
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Merest Survival Aug. 15 2000
By Trixie
Format:Paperback
Although one of her most acclaimed, QUARTET IN AUTUMN is my least favorite of Barbara Pym's major novels. It is spare and muted in tone, and its humor is very subdued.
QUARTET IN AUTUMN is a study of the courage required of ordinary people when old age begins to take away all that gives life meaning--work, family, friends. It is therefore mainly concerned with questions of survival. Its four main characters are isolated and anonymous London office workers on the verge of retirement. Some manage to continue to find ways to make their lives possible, but the book is also unsparing about how bleak the alternatives are.
QUARTER IN AUTUMN is admirably disciplined and honest, but it is disquieting because it admits the possibility of only the merest survival.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Merest Survival Aug. 15 2000
By Trixie
Format:Paperback
Although one of her most acclaimed, QUARTET IN AUTUMN is my least favorite of Barbara Pym's major novels. It is spare and muted in tone, and its humor is very subdued.
QUARTET IN AUTUMN is a study of the courage required of ordinary people when old age begins to take away all that gives life meaning--work, family, friends. It is therefore mainly concerned with questions of survival. Its four main characters are isolated and anonymous London office workers. Some manage to continue to find ways to make their lives possible, but the book is also unsparing about the bleaker alternatives.
The writing in QUARTER IN AUTUMN is disciplined and mature, but it is disquieting because it admits the possibility of only the merest survival.
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Format:Paperback
...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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3.0 out of 5 stars Not a Masterpiece, But Not a Flop Either. April 30 2000
Format:Paperback
This book is not a masterpiece. The characters are not that well developed. Nor are the images really there. Also, the pace does get a bit sluggish. Ah, but it is not a flop either. Pymn teaches us a very important lesson. We MUST NOT let our rituals kill us BEFORE we die. The whole point is that the characters in this book are so caught up in their rituals, that they DO NOT live. So while "Quartet in Autumn" does not show the work of a literary genious, it DOES teach us a very important lesson.
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