Quartet in Autumn

Quartet in Autumn, by Barbara Pym is a quiet book about four office co-workers on the verge of retirement. They’re colleagues, but not friends. They have worked together for a number of years, but never really gotten to know each other or move beyond the niceties and conventions of the workplace.  However, as you get to know them you realize that each one is very much alone, and that the somewhat skimpy relationship they share is the one real relationship in their lives. Could be really depressing to read about, but I found it fascinating, first because I’m so close to the same age, and my husband and I are actually starting to use the “R” word a little more often.  And then because Pym has an amazing way of taking us inside each person’s life and showing us the little bits of hope and dignity of each life.  We come to understand them as a rather dysfunctional group, but they ARE a group and their lives intertwine in an interesting, and ultimately positive, way.  It’s been years since I read a Barbara Pym, and I had forgotten how very much I like her writing.

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10 thoughts on “Quartet in Autumn

  1. Bellezza

    I’ve heard such good things about Barbara Pym’s writing. I even have one of her books on my shelf (Could it be Excellent Women?). This sounds fascinating to me as well, as I put in my 25th year of teaching and retirement looms ever larger in my life. Plus, I love books which examine relationships. In a way, this reminds me of something Maeve Binchy would write…

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  2. Sam Sattler

    How very true this sounds. I was forced into early retirement after 29 years with a company (have since gone to work for another) and had worked with at least a dozen people there for at least 25 years. I saw them every day, knew about their families, hobbies, hopes, etc. and considered them to be friends, not co-workers. I found, though, that once I was cut from the herd it was too much of an effort for them to stay in touch (we seldom saw each other outside the workplace before I left). I made an effort for the better part of six months but finally gave it up because of the poor response. Luckily, I do have friends other than this group, but I do miss them and wonder why we let these things happen to ourselves.

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  3. Nan

    Wonderful write-up about this book, Robin. I have a little pile of BP books, and this one is at the top since it is the one I want to read next by her. I was very touched by Sam’s comment above. It seems to be just exactly what Pym was talking about. She really sees inside of people and situations. And sadly, now perhaps even more than in the past people’s jobs are their lives. They have retreats and parties and there’s almost a forced intimacy. People work longer hours than ever. It used to be you went to work and then you came home and lived your life. Now they are meshed together ever more tightly so the line isn’t so clear.

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  4. Robin Post author

    Molly, thinking about that “R” word is an interesting process. We’re just beginning to think more seriously about it. That’s why I found this little book so interesting.

    Lena, I do love her writing, but haven’t read very much by her…yet. I’m going to change that!

    Bellezza, I have Excellent Women on my shelf for a reread since it’s been over 20 years since I first read it! Maeve Binchy definitely writes about relationships, too, but hers are more lighthearted. This one is pretty serious, and some people might find it depressing, but I was quite fascinated by it.

    Sam, your story is really interesting and very much what this book is about. Those relationships don’t have anything besides the workplace to tether us together, and when that time of parting comes, people find it easier to “let it go” rather than put in the effort to reach out to each other in real friendship. This story is so well written and although it’s a quiet little book, it really sticks with you.

    Gavin, Pym is a must.

    Thanks, Nan. I’m anxious to read more by her now. I think I’ll start by rereading Excellent Women, which I remember enjoying. It’s nice to have all her work ahead of me. You should read this book…your description of today’s work world fits very well with this story. I loved that cover picture, too, although it was from one of the British publications and not the version I read.

    Lisa, as I told Gavin…reading Pym is a must.

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