Excellent Women was not an excellent read for me. Although I enjoyed some aspects of it, many others were rather tiresome, including how often everyone says ‘rather’.
Funnily enough, it turns out I read it in 2015 but clearly it had made little impression on me, because I thought I hadn’t read it before! My copy was from a charity shop. I don’t like to walk out of a charity shop without buying something, so this was one of those purchases.
The story is narrated by Miss Mildred Lathbury, a meek churchgoing woman in her thirties (who seems a good deal older than that). She lives alone and can’t seem to decide if she’s happy about it. Her life becomes interesting when a mismatched married couple, the Napiers, move in to the same building. She is charmed by the husband but at the same time she can see how awful he is. The novel is a celebration of unmarried women, whether they are glamorous career women, or are dowdy do-gooders. There is a sharply observed humour, reminiscent of Jane Austen’s examination of social behaviour. I can see why the novel has found many fans.
I couldn’t stand Mildred herself. Her name, the way she says everything ‘feebly’, her obsession with clergymen, how much she goes on about cups of tea. Reading her narrative was like the annoyance of getting a hair caught in one’s mouth.
Not my cup of tea, I’m afraid.
First published in 1952. This edition by Virago, 2008, with an introduction by Alexander McCall Smith.