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Wanda's Book Reviews

I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles.  (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).

Quartet in Autumn / Barbara Pym

Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym

This is Pym's poignant story of four elderly single people who work in the same office. Their work is their chief point of contact with each other and with the outside world. When the two women retire, the equilibrium of the quartet is upset. Quartet in Autumn is a gently compelling story of human dignity in the midst of hopelessness.


This little novel probably appealed to me so strongly because these four people are in the zone that I currently inhabit—they are reaching retirement age and wondering if they are ready for this next phase of life.

I’m currently flailing around, trying to determine if I have the financial resources necessary to pull the plug, because like Letty and Marcia, I never married and I’m now responsible for my own future. But how times have changed—I’m no longer at the mercy of the government pension to determine how my future unfolds, and I’ve been able to plan better things for myself.

Still, I understand the uncertainties of retirement. How will my days be structured? What activities will fill my time? Will I still be able to afford many of the activities that I currently enjoy? Poverty in old age is a perennial worry, something that has soaked into my bones. I think single women of my vintage have a horror of becoming bag ladies and having to eat cat food. Financial advisors rarely understand this worry—they don’t live on the same financial edge that many older single women do.

I remember when one of my friends was looking for housing for her elderly mother in the U.K. She told me she looked at too many places where “You wouldn’t want to leave your coat, let along your mother.” I think we’ve all heard horror stories of homes for the elderly where they are abused and/or neglected. The problem of where to live is the big one. Does one stay at home and go odd, like Marcia? Or take small steps towards taking control, like Letty?

I’m hoping to be in the Letty camp—once I’m retired, I hope to start looking around for the next living situation and plan out the next number of years. I think most of us still feel younger than we are in our own heads—referring to myself as elderly seems ridiculous to me, but I’m sure I seem that way to the younger people in my life. Still, I need to get planning adventures for the post-work phase of life and this book has been both a comfort and an inspiration for that.