When Barbara Pym died in January 1980, this unpublished novel was found among her papers - written in 1963, at a time when her work was out of fashion. The publication after nineteen years of An Unsuitable Attachment therefore became an important literary event and a source of joy for her many fans.
Set in St Basil’s, an undistinguished North London parish, An Unsuitable Attachment is indeed full of the high comedy for which she is famed. There is Mark Ainger, the vicar, who introduces his sermons with remarks like ‘Those of you who are familiar with the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.’ His wife Sophia with her cat, ‘I feel sometimes that I can’t reach Faustina as I’ve reached other cats.’ Rupert Stonebird, anthropologist and eligible bachelor.
The well-bred Ianthe Broome who works at the library and forms an unsuitable attachment with a young man there. The sharp-tongue Mervyn Cantrell, chief librarian, who complains that ‘when books have things spilt on them it is always bottled sauce or gravy of the thickest and most repellent kind rather than something utterly exquisite and delicious.’
There is also Daisy Pettigrew, the vet’s sister, another obsessional cat person, and Sister Dew who bears a strong resemblance to Sister Blatt in Excellent Women. These and many more incidental characters come under Barbara Pym’s microscope.
Phillip Larkin sums up what An Unsuitable Attachment means to Pym's legion of admirers in his fascinating introduction, saying, ‘It is richly redolent of her unique talent . . . her followers will need no further recommendation.’