No Fond Return of Love
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
I thought I had read all of Pym's novels, but then realized that I had somehow missed No Fond Return of Love. After making up for my mistake, I would have to say that No Fond Return of Love has become my very favorite Pym work. That the story revolves around the incredibly patient and self-effacing folks who compose academic bibliographies (in the days when it was all done by hand), is a stroke of comic genius. Aside from the usual wit and depth of insight, it has the most wonderfully intricate plot and the most fleshed-out and real characters of all her fine books. Dulcie Mainwaring is a saint! And, a very real person. Everyone gets what she wants in this novel, and although the reader may disagree with the main characters' choices, they are THEIR choices and totally believable. This is also the sunniest and funniest of all the Pym novels, and I found myself literally laughing out loud at the many human failings and foibles Pym reveals in her most kind, generous, and forgiving manner.

Pym is always compared to Jane Austen, but No Fond Return of Love seems to me a finer work than anything of Miss Austen's. I enjoyed every single moment of this book and look forward to a re-reading of it quite soon.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
This is the first Barbara Pym I have read and I have to say I was a bit put off at first. It was written and set around the 1950's in London about Dulcie Mainwairing -a 30-odd year old woman and Aylwin Forbes a 47-year-old man. It is quite odd, no very odd. In many ways. There are a cast of extras in it, Laurel, Dulcie's niece; Viola, a rather cynical woman Dulcie meets who boards with her; Mrs Williton, an aunt, an uncle, two highly eccentric neighbours and a very strange bed and Breakfast owner who is Aylwin's mother. They seem to rattle around in this story which is mostly about Dulcie's gentle obsession with Aylwin. She has clearly fallen in love and does all the strange things one does when you fall in love - she looks him up in books, finds out where his brother is, visits his mother's boarding house, and this book is mostly about that obsession - but in the end all these characters floating around seem to tie up their loose ends or become important to the story. More important, and what I really began to enjoy about Pym was the way she tied up different motifs in the plot which were seen from different characters points of view. A stone squirrel in a front yard, a stuffed eagle in the boarding house. At one stage we see Aylwin unpacking, he has bought nothing intellectual to read, just Henry James - later downstairs Dulcie overhears him and wonders to her self why he is talking so Henry Jamesian. Its just a nice overlay of images from different viewpoints and it starts you realising how much in common Dulcie and Aylwin have.
Like I said, I was a bit put off at first, but its a lovely, gentle, clever little romance that fairly soon I was really enjoying it.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2008
If you read novels in order to vicariously experience 1) Passionate Romance, 2) Hot Sex, 3) Violent Degradation and Tearful Redemption, 4) Political Intrigue or 5) Action/ Adventure, it's a fair bet you will not enjoy reading a book by Barbara Pym. If, however, you enjoy reading about 1) Dowdy, Socially Awkward 30-ish Spinsters, 2) Middle-aged Washed-Up Academics, 3) Confused Clergymen, 4) The Finer Points of Anglo-Catholic Liturgy and Lifestyle, or 5) Tea -- you will enjoy her immensely. Her stories of socially awkward people living lives of very quiet church-going, gardening, tea-sipping desperation in Post-War Britain are written with a light, witty hand and a keen, sensitive mind. For good reason she was known in her time as the new Jane Austen. In this one, our heroine, Dulcie Mainwaring, meets both Viola Dace and Aylwin Forbes at a conference for researchers and becomes involved in a romantic triangle that results in more confusion, disappointment, awkwardness and hot milky drinks than... uhh... actual romance. Still, all turns out more-or-less right in the end and all the more satisfying because of it. Delightful.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Like all the heroines in the Barbara Pym novels of my experience, Dulcie Mainwaring is single and ruefully coming to terms with the prospects of spinsterhood. Overeducated for the employment opportunities of her sex in 1950s England, she works in the basement of the literary world, as an indexer, proofreader, and researcher. The novel begins with her attending a literary conference of sorts, featuring talks on such topics as bibliography, "some problems of an editor", and "some problems of indexing." There she meets two people who will feature prominently in the next year of her life: Viola Dace, another single middle-aged woman, less glamorous even than Dulcie; and Aylwin Forbes, a fifty-ish, dashingly handsome academic whose professional specialty is obscure metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century and whose hobby (though married) appears to be flirting with single women.

During the course of the novel, romantic opportunities and even marriage keep befalling many of the women around Dulcie: her new friend Viola, her niece Laurel, even her elderly aunt Hermione. But what about poor Dulcie, who is so shy and self-conscious and sensible? For the ambiguous answer, the reader needs to persevere beyond the first half of the novel (which takes that long to set the stage) and continue to the very last page.

NO FOND RETURN OF LOVE is a typical Barbara Pym novel (it is her fifth for me). It is foremost a sensitive and bittersweet exploration of the plight of educated middle-class women in post-War English society. (Pym was an early understated feminist). Its characters all have their foibles and just enough personality to elevate them from mere caricatures. It is both a gentle satire and the sort of thing called "a comedy of manners." The story-telling is deft, and the novel proceeds at a lively pace, often carried along by dialogue. It has plenty of moments of barbed wit.

NO FOND RETURN OF LOVE is now fifty years old. While it might seem slightly dated, I suspect that it will not sink into literary oblivion. Indeed, I would not be surprised if in another fifty years it and the other novels of Barbara Pym have a sort of renascence, somewhat like the novels of Anthony Trollope - the British author I believe Barbara Pym is most comparable to. (Philip Larkin regarded her as the most underrated writer of the twentieth century.)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 27, 2008
In No Fond Return of Love, three people converge on an academic conference at a girls' school: Dulcie Mainwaring, a middle-aged spinster living in the London suburbs; Viola Dace, an indexer; and Aylwin Forbes, a lecturer and editor, with whom Viola is in love. Dulcie soon finds herself becoming mildly obsessed with the handsome Aylwin; and looks him up in books at the local library and even walking past his mother-in-law's house. Oh, if only the internet had been around in the 1950s, when this novel is set!

Later, Dulcie's niece, Laurel, moves in with her in order to attend a secretarial course; Viola, after an argument with her landlady, moves in not long after. Laurel soon finds herself being the object of Aylwin Forbes's affection, even as Viola continues to be in love with him. What's the levelheaded, eager-to-please Dulcie to do?

No Fond Return of Love is a sweet, gentle romance, much in the way that Jane Austen's works are (and indeed, this novel has been compared to Persuasion). Pym does a wonderful job, in all of her works, of exposing her characters' foibles. Dulcie is a bit of a saint, but not in the holier-than-thou or pedantic way, which I thought was delightful. In a way, Pym's work is a lot like Muriel Spark's, but I've found that I much prefer Pym. Her work is so much more genteel than Spark's is.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 11, 2014
Pym fans are aware that she published six novels between 1950 and 1961 and then suffered a drought until QUARTET IN AUTUMN was released in 1977. This was her last novel before publishers dropped her and it certainly doesn't foreshadow her coming problems. This one is so very much a "Pym" book and her joy and confidence in her work is never more evident. It's full of insider jokes: her first novel (SOME TAME GAZELLE) in Dulcie's bathroom, four characters from A GLASS OF BLESSINGS showing up to advance the plot, and even an appearance by the author herself in a hotel dining room. "...but as she was a woman of about forty, ordinary-looking and unaccompanied, nobody took much notice of her." No one connected her with the books that they read and enjoyed and so continued eating, "quite unconscious that they were being observed."

Observation is a major theme of the book and Dulcie (although she does indexes and isn't a "creative" writer) is an avid people-watcher. Sometimes her hobby becomes almost an obsession and she'll go to great (and very amusing) lengths to get information about those she becomes interested in. She worries that she prefers the role of observer to that of an active participant in life, but she also realizes the advantages of remaining aloof. She's an unusual character - conventional, but eccentric; shy, but totally lacking in self-consciousness. I think that Pym put a great deal of herself into Dulcie and she's an appealing heroine.

There's "romance" although sometimes it's not very romantic. Although a plain woman and a life-long spinster, Pym was usually "involved" (that's the term her biographical information uses, so I'll adopt it) with some man or another. She believed that happiness is not just for the young, model-beautiful heroine marrying the handsome billionaire, but for all of us. When her characters find love, it's particularly satisfying for us, because we see ourselves in them. Her novels are books to be savored and re-read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2012
We often say we wish people were as polite now as they were in the 1950s, but we forget the downside: that politeness on our parts would be necessary & that would be inconvenient. But on further reflection, it might be good for us, as it was for Dulcie. She didn't really want her niece to move in, but thought she owed it to her sister, & it livened her life a little. She really, really didn't want Viola as a boarder, either, but Viola became a co-conspirator in investigating Aylwin.

For me, one of the tests of a good book is wondering what might happen afterwards to the characters. Will Viola's husband-to-be be sorry he married someone who can't cook & is a sloppy housekeeper? Will Dulcie be able to forget that Aylwin was interested in her niece? and so on
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 24, 2008
Jilted by her fiancé (because he says she is "too good" for him), Dulcie Mainwaring has little to link her to the rest of the world. Although she has inherited a large Victorian house from her parents, she has no relatives, few friends, and a classic Barbara Pym job as an index compiler for scholarly authors; all she has to connect her to the rest of the world are the little fantasies she spins about those who lives are contingent to her own. And thus when she attends a book conference and becomes fascinated by a handsome married older author, Aylwin Forbes, and befriends the woman with whom he had an affair, Viola Dace, Dulcie finds a way to give new shape and direction for her life.

One of Pym's most inventive comedies, NO FOND RETURN OF LOVE is much concerned with the way in which we invent stories about the people whom we live near, and how those fantasies can be even more sustaining for than our actual relations with these people. Dulcie and Viola become stalkers of Aylwin Forbes with little compunction or fear; it seems perfectly natural to them to base their friendship on trading information they've unearthed about him or on staking out his mother-in-law's house together. But most of the other characters are themselves fantasists too: Aylwin has constructed plans of his own around Dulcie's niece Laurel, for example. The novel is an extended commentary on metafiction, and thus it seems of little surprise when other characters from Pym's previous novels begin popping up for little cameos at the novel's end (though this does go on for too long), as does Pym herself. While not as funny as LESS THAN ANGELS nor as beautifully constructed as EXCELLENT WOMEN, this remains one of Pym's best books.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2014
Barbara Pym is one of those hidden gems found in the back of the messy fictional jewelry drawer: overlooked, dazzling and unexpected. She has the ability to both define an era, mid-20th century England, at the same time as writing timeless stories of recognizable people. I love her stuff and can't imagine why she isn't better known. Why isn't she better known, tell me?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2014
I'm a Barbara Pym fan and that's about it. It's another sexless romance where even the libertines don't indulge and there are certainly too many references to poems, but so what. You either like her or you don't. I do.
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