Four colleagues, who have worked together for a number of years are approaching retirement.  We are unsure of the exact nature of their jobs, suffice to say, it is not mission-critical.  Despite the time they have worked together, the relationship between them has not progressed beyond acquaintanceship.  For they have lives beyond the office. Right?

Wrong.  The 2 spinsters and the 2 widowers are all loners with no family to speak much of.  Edwin kills time at church; Marcia collects empty milk bottles in her garden shed, Letty and Norman both inhabit furnished bedsits.

So when Marcia and Letty retire, the questions are what will they do with all that extra time.  How will they cope?  Will Letty retire to the countryside to be with her friend and will Marcia stop obsessing about a non-matching empty milk bottle long enough to get her housework done?

Letty’s plans go dreadfully awry. 

Letty had been retired for a week and had drawn the first payment of her pension before she found herself coming to the conclusion that sociology was not quite all that she had hoped for.  …. She had imagined herself revelling and wallowing – perhaps these words were too violent to describe what she had imagined- in her chosen subject, not frozen with boredom, baffled and bogged down by incomprehensible jargon, continually looking at her watch to see if it could be time to make a cup of coffee. 

(Point taken – I’ll stick to fiction when the time comes.)

Dramatic momentum is provided by Marcia’s demise into senility.  It’s not that people fail to help her, it’s that she refuses to be helped regardless of the source of the advice – social worker, ex-colleagues, doctors.  Yet her eventual and inevitable death binds the three surviving colleagues together and opens their eyes to possibilities they had chosen to ignore before.  And if it all sounds rather gloomy, that’s not one of the adjectives I would use.  Sad, melancholic, reflective, gentle brush strokes depicting human truths …. with plenty of wry, dry laughs along the way.  Recognise this?  At Marcia and Letty’s retirement presentation …

The (acting) deputy assistant director, who had been commanded to make the presentation speech, wasn’t quite sure what it was that Miss Crowe and Miss Ivory did or had done during their working lives. 

The situations are somewhat dated. (No company today would keep a department open until its workers reach retirement age.) But this doesn’t actually matter. It’s the human interest, the difference in narrative voices, the difference in personality,  the dynamic awkwardwess between the four protagonists that captures the eye,  providing both the entertainment and the mirror to the reader’s self. 

This was a real find on the library 20p clearance shelves. Unread and in pristine condition, apart from the torn-out front end page! (Vandalism alert.  Why do libraries do this?) Anyway I intended to read it once and then bin it.  Well, like Letty’s plan, mine too has gone awry.  This novel has inveigled its way into my permanent collection. I’m already looking forward to the reread.