I woke to one of those gloomy, rain-sodden, spirit-sapping mornings that England seems to be specialising in at the moment and decided that breakfast could wait until after I'd made a start on "Miss Pym Disposes", which, happily, turned out to be not at all what I was expecting.
It seems my subconscious had, on the basis of the title alone, classified Miss Pym as an older single-woman spending her time sharpening the cutting edge of her insight on the strop of other people's weaknesses à la Miss Marple. Instead, I found myself in the company of a woman who is described as "Little Miss Pym" and who, like me, was avoiding getting out of bed.
She's been woken at 05.30 by a clamorous bell that she's doing her best to ignore. The bell is part of the regimen of the girl's school she has stayed overnight at after being the guest external speaker on Friday evening. She regards the bell as excessive and is glad that its summons does not apply to her anymore.
"Once upon a time she too had lived a life regulated by bells, but that was long ago. Nearly twenty years ago. When a bell rang in Miss Pym’s life now it was because she had put a delicately varnished finger-tip on the bell-push."
What follows is a lightly-written, fast-paced, humour-filled set of encounters between Miss Pym and a variety of students that build Miss Pym's character, starts to sketch the very large number of students and staff the story is going to involve and establishes the over-amplified, so-constantly-stressed-no-one-notices-anymore atmosphere of an all-girls Physical Training College.
Miss Pym is not at all the kind of person I'd expect to be at the centre of a 1940's detective story. She not very confident, She describes herself as having been "the little fourth-form rabbit" at school. She is engaged in "a constant and bitter war" with her weaker self, who seems to want to do as little as possible and her other self who doesn't want to make a bad impression. She's also still adjusting to having been propelled into prominence by having her pop psychology book become a best seller. The book was written as a rebuttal to the thirty-something psychology books Miss Pym read when she took an interest in the subject. It's not an academic critique but rather an account of her amazement at the inability of psychologists to read people.
So far, much of the humour of the book comes from Miss Pym's obsessive people watching and her compulsive attempts to use physical appearance to devine character.
So, this is off to a much more cheerful start than my morning is. I'm going to leave Miss Pym socialising with students on the lawn while I get myself some breakfast.