‘Try not to be quite so critical – learn to like processed cheese and tea-bags and instant coffee, and beef burgers and fish fingers too – most of the people in the village live on such things and they’re none the worse for it.’
Miss Lickerish had not bothered to put on the light at the normal time. She boiled a kettle on the fire and then sat in her chair with a cup of tea at her side and a cat on her knees. But some time during those dark hours the cat left her lap and sought the warmth of his basket, Miss Likerish’s lap having become strangely chilled.
When she came up to the cottage, however, and saw that he was in the front garden reading a newspaper (it looked like The Guardian), it was obvious that something had caught and held his attention and that he was not in a mood to notice what she was wearing. When he looked up from the paper and saw her all he said was, ‘Did you know Esther Clovis had died?’
‘Miss Clovis, dead? No, I certainly didn’t know. Is it there? Has someone written about her?’
‘Yes, a rather fulsome bit.’
Emma sat down on the grass beside him, conscious of a shared ritual silence, a meditation on the passing of a formidable female power in the anthropological world of their youth. Esther Clovis, with her tweed suits and dog-like hair, was no more.
This is Barbara’s farewell to her readers, revised not long before her death and published shortly after it. A gentle, kindly book with less of the melancholy that marked the two novels that preceded it,… [it was] written after Barbara’s rediscovery and in the certainty of publication. It has, perhaps for this reason, a resumed cheerfulness, although she knew she could not have long to live. As it is set in a west Oxfordshire village (not unlike that of Finstock, to which she had now retired with her sister), the changes that the world has suffered are less keenly felt; we seem to have gone back a little in time.
We follow the life of the village from late April or early May until some time in the next February. Emma Howick, an anthropologist in her early thirties, who is staying at a cottage to write up her notes on a former project, conceived the idea of making a study of village life – and is more a working anthropologist than any other in Barbara’s books, for her ‘field’ is the background to this book and she is really concerned with ‘collective habits and social behaviour’ more than with the investigation of individual oddities…
One likes to think that the ‘imaginary village’ is not too great a feat of the imagination, but has resemblances to places well known by the author, even though they have passed through her imagination. It is a consoling book, an epilogue to her work. – Robert Liddell, A Mind at Ease: Barbara Pym and Her Novels, Ch. 13 (1989)13.