I haven’t read nearly enough Barbara Pym, I think. I loved Excellent Women when I read it years ago and quickly collected a few more of her books for my collection. And there they sat until I finally got around to reading A Glass of Blessings this week. And what an interesting book it is!
Wilmet Forsyth, the narrator of the novel, is low-key bored with life and becomes alive with excitement when she gets the impression that Piers, the brother of her friend Rowena, is flirting with her. It turns out that she does have an admirer, but it’s not Piers. It eventually becomes evident that Piers is gay and his roommate, unseen for much of the novel, is actually his boyfriend. But the fantasy of an affair with Piers livens up Wilmet’s life for a while.
Wilmet is also active in her church, an Anglo-Catholic parish whose priests are celibate and in need of household help, which Wilmet helps them find in the form of Wilf Bason, a former colleague of Wilmet’s husband, Rodney. She also fills her days with Portuguese classes, taught by Piers, which she attends with her mother-in-law, Sybil. And she becomes friends with Mary, a fellow parishioner who offers lodging to the new assistant priest until her mother dies and she begins to contemplate becoming a nun.
What I enjoyed about this story is that it just shows people being people, having feelings and being who they are, with no huge sense of judgment. Yes, there are gossips and opinions about what others do. And sometimes it gets mean. But mostly people say their opinions and let it go. The biggest actual scandal is what Wilf Bason takes a Fabergé egg from the mantel at the clergy house, not to keep but to carry around. Extramarital attractions and flirtations are taken more or less in stride (although it might be different if they were to become full-blown affairs). Pym seems to treat her characters with gentleness while taking real human emotion seriously.