Wednesday, the 25th of January, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature created by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. Since early January 2023, Shelf Control has moved base here to Literary Potpourri. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, when/where you got it, why you want to read it and such. If you participate, don’t forget to share your links in the comments. I’ll check out your picks of course, and also add you to the list of participants in this post!

Today’s pick is again from an author I’ve enjoyed previously, having read a handful of her works. English author Barbara Pym (1913-1980) (find my review of a bio of her by Paula Byrne here) was the writer of a series of social comedies, some of them poking gentle fun at the academia (particularly anthropologists), others taking us to the world of her excellent women, largely happy (though sometimes lonely) in their singleness, volunteering in church and oftentimes observing and even becoming involved in the lives and loves of others. Pym’s first novel was Some Tame Gazelle, which was initially rejected but published in 1935 and then went on to write what is still her best known book, Excellent Women. After publishing six books, she went through a rather difficult spell of 16 years when her work was consistently rejected by publishers. But after poet Philip Larkin and separately Lord David Cecil named her as the most underrated writer, her career revived and she started to publish once again.

An Academic Question (1986) is a book by Pym that was published posthumously, revised by her literary executor and biographer Hazel Holt. The story is set in a provincial university where Caroline Grimstone, the wife of an anthropology professor is growing tired of her marriage and dull village. But things begin to take an interesting turn when she steals (at her husband’s bidding) a dying friend’s memoirs setting in motion a series of academic and amorous rivalries bringing much hilarity and uproar into usually quiet university life.

This definitely sounds like a book in typical Pym territory poking fun at the world of anthropologists and the academia which is a setting I’ve enjoyed some of her other works (Less Than Angels for instance) with eccentric characters, plenty of confusion and lots of fun. So definitely one I’m interested in exploring. Also not having read any of her later works, I am interested in seeing the change in tone that many mention in these, as they apparently take on a more sombre note than her earlier works.

Have you read this one? Or any other Barbara Pym? Any you’d recommend?

Book description and cover image from Goodreads as always, author info from the Byrne bio and wikipedia.

After a feeble attempt to set up a Mister Linky page, I have given up for now, so for this week please do share your links in the comments, and I’ll include your entry in the participants list below.

Participants this week

Lory @ The Enchanted Castle: The Hainish Novels and Stories by Ursula Le Guin

Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog: The Garden of Ruth by Eva Etzioni-Halevy

Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys: The Power by Naomi Alderman


27 thoughts on “Shelf Control #212: An Academic Question by Barbara Pym

    1. πŸ™‚ am sure they will. She’s very enjoyable though I remember when I first read her, I found the melancholy notes standing out more to me than lighter ones. But i have really liked the books I’ve read since


  1. I read about half a dozen Pyms a long time ago, and whilst I enjoyed them a lot, I got a bit burned out with her writing. She’s very good, but I was involved in a monthly readalong and they became too similar to me. Not read this later one and would be interested to hear what you think!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. *sigh* I still haven’t tried any Pym, despite many promptings by bloggers. This, poking fun at academics, sounds right up my street so I’m eagerly anticipating your review as a final push in her direction!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I went on a Pym binge a couple of years ago. But then I switched e-libraries and my new one doesn’t have most of her books, including this one. I would read it if it did though. I agree about the saminess but I still enjoy them when in a certain mood.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very much the same with me. I think if I leave enough of a gap between reads I enjoy them a lot. I picked up most of mine second hand, though I’ve been eyeing the new editions they’ve brought out recently.


  4. I have read this, though I remember it poorly. I only read it once, most Pym books I have read twice, Some Tame Gazelle three times. I seem to remember enjoying this one but finding the world of it less typically ‘Pymish’. You make me want to revisit it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. She’s wonderful! And it’s only Quartet in Autumn which is really dark and sad, though I love the melancholy that peeks through. I find she has a world and a tone rather than being the same, and characters recur in some books, so all good. I’d say read it asap!

    Liked by 1 person

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