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Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym

Less Than Angels

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"Less Than Angels follows the loves, works and hopes of a group of young anthropologists. Catherine Oliphant is a writer and lives with handsome anthropologist Tom Mallow. When he begins a romance with student Deirdre Swann, Catherine turns her attention to Alaric Lydgate, who has a fondness for wearing African masks."

This is a very well-written book. Like Jane Austen, the author uses her astute and objective observations to describe her characters and their behaviour. This is particularly true in the character of Catherine, who consistently reflects on and analyses her own behaviour. This book was written in 1955, but the emotions and relationships portrayed in it transcend time.

Barbara Pym draws on her own experiences to create a believable context for the interplay between her characters. Anthropology and academia are familiar areas for the writer so her observations come across as almost indifferent but nonetheless convincing.

As the author also experienced living with her grown-up sister, the relationship between Mabel and Rhoda is particularly sharply defined and often amusing. Throughout the book there are many good lines which even make you laugh out loud.

Recommendation: If you enjoy literature in a style of sharp observation and wit with a subtle but not dramatic plot, then this is a good choice.