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Posts Tagged ‘Josephine Tey’

A friend popped in to see me a couple of weeks ago, returned a book I had loaned her and then produced this one – which she thought I would like. It just happened I finished a book a couple of hours before she had arrived and hadn’t decided what to read next. Miss Pym Disposes looked exactly what I was in the mood for – and I have meant to give Josephine Tey a try for years – so it did seem like the perfect moment and in fact it was.

As I mentioned in a recent post: The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye – I like rather a lot from my mysteries. While I appreciate a fiendishly clever plot and a totally unexpected denouement, I really like to become fully invested in the characters – as I would in any other kind of novel. I like a good sense of place, some description to sit alongside the mystery. I do not like lots of gory details, and I don’t expect a body in the first chapter necessarily – I like an author to trust in their reader’s sense of anticipation. Miss Pym Disposes ticked almost all my mystery novel boxes – the thing I really appreciated is that in this novel Josephine Tey takes her time. For two thirds of the novel, Tey gives us a novel about a woman visiting a girls physical training college – she introduces us to members of the staff and student body with acuity – involving us the reader in the life of this community. Of course, we know or at least sense that something will occur – and so there is a delicious sense of anticipation – and when ‘the moment’ comes we care about it so much more.

I very much liked Jospehine Tey’s style in this novel – I have heard some people say the quality of her novels varies – but I enjoyed her observations and little asides such as this.

“There was no doubt that being a little on the plump side kept the lines away; if you had to have a face like a scone it was at least comforting that it was a smooth scone.”

Lucy Pym is a woman in her thirties – she took to read psychology books and having read a lot of them wrote a fierce rebuttal which turned into a book and became a huge bestseller. She uses her understanding of psychology to understand the people she meets – though whether it’s real psychology or just plain good sense I don’t know. She is invited by an old friend from school days – who is now the headmistress of a physical training college for young women – to give a lecture.

Initially it is to be a brief visit – and as the novel opens Miss Pym is being rudely awoken by the 5.30 am bell that rouses the students from their beds in the summer months. It is the beginning of the last week or so of the academic year – and the young women of the senior year are preparing for their final exams. Having been put up in the student wing of the school rather than the staff wing, Miss Pym is soon drawn into the noisy, chaos that is life among these young women. They chatter and rush about at all hours – full of the impending exams and physical demonstrations, and who will or will not be appointed to posts in other institutions as they go forward into the world.

“It was Lucy’s private opinion that injustice was harder to bear than almost any other inflicted ill. She could remember yet the surprised hurt, the helpless rage, the despair that used to consume her when she was young and the victim of an injustice. It was the helpless rage that was worst; it consumed one like a slow fire. There was no outlet, because there was nothing one could do about it. A very destructive emotion indeed.”

Lucy is a big hit with these young women, and they urge her to stay – so that she can attend their tea party on the lawn and the end of year demonstration at the end of the following week. Her accommodation has no bedside reading light, she is woken by bells far too early and the healthy, nutritionally balanced diet is certainly not to her liking, but Lucy Pym likes very much the young women she has been thrown together with.

“In the last few years she had been ignored, envied, admired, kowtowed to, and cultivated; but warm, personal liking was something she had not had since the Lower Fourth said good-bye to her, with a home-made pen-wiper and a speech by Gladys Someone-or-other, shortly after her legacy. To stay in this atmosphere of youth, of liking, of warmth, she was willing to overlook for a space the bells, the beans, and the bathrooms.”

Despite her initial wish to get straight back to London, Lucy is charmed by these vibrant young women as well as interested in them and with nothing pressing her immediate return home she does decide to stay. Lucy is aware of the rising tensions within this group of students, petty rivalries and jealousies that exist within any such group. Over the coming days Lucy gets to know the seniors really quite well – she is roped in as an exam invigilator and begins to make some observations about one of the students in particular.

Eventually, just as the reader knew it would – something happens – apparently an accident – and a young woman is taken to hospital where she later dies. Miss Pym is not convinced at all that this was really an accident. In the time she has spent at the college Lucy has made some discoveries that she thinks are relevant to what happened – what though should she do with this evidence?

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