Some Tame Gazelle, By Barbara Pym

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Virago is releasing a series of Barbara Pym novels with new covers and new introductions; this, her debut, originally published in 1950, has been reissued with an appreciation by Mavis Cheek.

I'm not sure how Pym's comic absurdity will translate to a 21st-century audience: Some Tame Gazelle revolves around the story of two middle-aged spinster sisters, Belinda and Harriet Bede, and their love for men of the cloth. Belinda is still in love with the man she met when she was young and who is now a married archdeacon; Harriet takes a fancy to every new curate who passes her way, while deflecting the marriage proposals of an Italian count who lives up the road.

Belinda's intelligence has gone to waste, Harriet's looks withered, and you wonder, quite honestly, how they keep going when so much of life has passed them by. The pathos of their situation is more keenly felt now, I think, than it would have been 50 years ago – which dilutes the humour and often made me shudder.