Thursday, 28 January 2010

Flowers for Mrs Harris

Mrs Ada Harris (pronounced Mrs 'Arris by the lady herself) is a London charwoman and a widow; at the outset of the novella Mrs Harris is on her way to Paris to buy herself a Dior evening gown. Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico (who I have waxed lyrical about once before) is a charming read; Ada Harris is vivacious and determined to fulfill her dream of acquiring couture whilst brightening up the lives of those she meets in the city of Dior. A light, frothy book, Flowers for Mrs Harris is about achieving one's dreams, the dedication that requires and, ultimately, the things that matter in life above material possessions.

Flowers for Mrs Harris could have been overly saccharine but its sweetness is well-balanced; in essence it is a sweet novel but it also comments on snobbery, on appearances being deceiving and of the friendships that arise out of surprising situations between disparate people. Mrs Harris has gumption, says what she thinks and goes for what she wants; I was reminded somewhat of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winfred Watson although Gallico's Mrs Harris didn't enter my heart like Miss Pettigrew did. However, my heart did break for Mrs Harris towards the end of the novella and the sudden poignancy turns an otherwise comic -Flowers for Mrs Harris is at times very funny and dryly witty- tale into a heartwarming one.

Published as Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris in the US, it was the first in a series of four books; I was delighted to discover that Bloomsbury are publishing the first two, Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris AND Mrs 'Arris Goes to New York, as one of their forthcoming Bloomsbury Group novels this summer. I look forward to discovering what the antics of Mrs Harris are in the Big Apple and the impression she makes.

Favourite quotes:

[F]or she understood the fierce, wild, hungry craving of the girl to be something, to be somebody, to lift herself out of the rut of everyday struggle and acquire some of the good things in life for herself.

'Lady Dant 'as one of them in her 'er cupboard. She brought it up for the charity ball tonight. I've never seen anything like it in me life before except perhaps in a dream or in a book.' Her voice lowered for a moment as she became reflective. 'Why, even the Queen ain't got a dress like that, ' she said, and then loudly and firmly, 'and I mean to 'ave one.'

Mrs Harris's lip began to tremble and her little eyes screwed up as the implications of the disaster became clear. Here, in this apparently empty, hostile building, before cold hostile eyes, the unimaginable seemed about to happen. They didn't seem to want her, they didn't even appear to want her money. They were going to send her away and back to London without her Dior dress.

She found herself in a curtained-off cubicle on a corridor that seemed to be a part of an endless maze of similar corridors and cubicles. Each cubicle held a woman like a queen bee in a cell, and through the corridors rushed the worker bees with the honey - armfuls of frilly, frothy garments in colours of plum, raspberry, tamarind, and peach, gentian-flower, cowslip, damask rose, and orchid, to present them where they had been ordered for trial and further inspection.


verity said...

I really must read this as I'm sure it would be something that I would enjoy; I loved The snow goose. But whether to track it down secondhand or wait for a Bloomsbury copy...

Paul Magrs said...

One of my all time favourites. Gallico is a wonderful writer - Love of the Seven Dolls, Love Let Me Not Hunger - and of course the marvellous Mrs Harris.

Very good news that Bloomsbury are dusting the old dear off!

Molly said...

This sounds delightful and I look forward to reading it when it becomes available. I love the cover art, by the way!

Aarti said...

This sounds lovely! I love characters with gumption :-)

A Bookish Space said...

This sounds wonderful and will have to buy it when it is released!

kimbofo said...

I'm so glad you mentioned Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day because just reading the first few sentences of your review had me thinking of that book. It sounds, by the way, rather delightful. I usually go for dark fiction but every now and then it's a real treat to read something a little bit frothy.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my very favorite books! I have my mother's old copy which I've read over and over since I was little. And then a few years ago, I stumbled on a book in a used shop, The World of Mrs. Harris, which has all four of the stories. I am so glad the Bloomsbury Group is reissuing these.

Anonymous said...

This sounds wonderful! The perfect feel good read! I might put it on my birthday list!

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this and being delighted by it in high school immediately after we had finished studying The Snow Goose - two very different books, but both very enjoyable. Thank you for reminding me of it!

Anonymous said...

I've never actually heard of him but this sounds really fun.

Jenny said...

I love these books! How did you discover the Bloomsbury Group is reissuing them? What else are they publishing, do you know?

Oo, and also, have you read Paul Gallico's The Abandoned? It was one of my favorite books when I was a kid, not least because it had a Jenny in it (only she spelled it Jennie). :P

Paperback Reader said...

Verity, The Snow Goose is such a beautiful book and this one was fun. I tracked down the Penguin copy photographed cheaply on ebay last year.

Hi Paul Magrs, thank you for commenting. My favourite of Gallico's is The Snow Goose, which is breathtaking, but I also have fond memories of Jennie from childhood.

I am delighted that Bloomsbury are resurrecting Mrs 'Arris!

Molly, I wish I could tell you who did the cover art but my book doesn't tell me. Oh well, it is lovely! Delightful is a very apt description of the book.

Aarti, she's be a definite Rosie's Riveter!

Hi A Bookish Space, thanks for commenting. I hope you enjoy it once it is reissued.

Kim, I love the lighter, delightful books as a break sometimes too. It was hard not to make comparisons with Miss Pettigrew as they just jump out at me from the premise itself. It should be Mrs Harris Goes to Paris ... and Lives for a Day.

Paperback Reader said...

makedo, I'm so thrilled that somebody else has read it! How providential to come across all four stories in one volume!

Rachel, it is definitely a feel-good read. Where Miss Pettigrew is a Cinderella story, Mrs Harris is the fairy godmother and very sweet.

Claire, happy to remind you! Glad that you have read it too; it is very different from The Snow Goose but has its own merits.

Lena, The Snow Goose is his most famous work and he wrote The Poseidon Adventure, which was made into the film. This one is fun.

Jenny, I found out from Amazon, which is hardly authoritative but hoping it will be the case. The other ones I found were:

Henrietta Sees it Through by Joyce Dennys (the sequel to Henrietta's War)

Mrs Ames by A.F. Benson

Let's Kill Uncle by Rohan O'Grady

There should also be a couple more.

The Abandoned is published as Jennie here and I loved it as a child! I also managed to pick up an old Penguin copy of it when I found Flowers for Mrs Harris - I can't wait to reread it!

Anonymous said...

Ooooh I am looking forward to Bloomsbury bringing this one out both because it sounds wonderful and so far I have loved all the reissues they have done so far!

Thomas at My Porch said...

I especially like the way Mrs. Harris transforms people who come into contact with her. This is a fabulous book.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, I'm sure that you would enjoy this one and I'm very excited to read Mrs Harris in New York!

Thomas, she does transform people; it's almost as if they are in the dark and she brings light to their lives. I did like the overall message of how strangers can touch one another and become important part of one's lives quickly.