Friday, 25 April 2008

Paul Gallico: "Flowers for Mrs Harris"

I've just bought my fourth copy of this -- second-hand -- from amazon, because I've given the other three away as presents to friends. It's such a lovely book -- hence the fact that I want my friends to read it -- so why is it out of print? I'm sure I'm not the only reader who returns, over and over again, to Paul Gallico's story of Ada Harris, a London cleaning lady who scrimps and saves in order to buy herself a Dior dress from Paris (hence the alternative title in American editions: Mrs 'Arris Goes To Paris).
It's one of the most evocative books I've ever read about the emotions threaded through our clothes -- about how what we wear on the outside is sometimes an indication of what lies beneath (which is a theme of my previous book, "My Mother's Wedding Dress"). The Dior dress cannot transform Mrs Harris back into a young girl -- 'the creation worked no miracles, except in her soul' -- but a kind of magic is nevertheless woven into its seams, and survives the material damage wreaked on its fabric, so that by the end of the story, "Mrs Harris hugged the dress to her thin bosom, hugged it hard as though it were alive and human..."
Now, I'm off to bed, to re-read it for the twentieth time -- and it never fails to make me laugh, and also tug at my heart.

17 comments:

dovegreyreader said...

I've heard so many people mention this book, I absolutely must get hold of a copy. Currently I'm Bronte-ing in Woolworths and loving it.

Justine Picardie said...

Do try to get hold of a copy -- I think you'd love it. Bronte-ing in Woolworths is next for me!

Table Talk said...

There was a wonderful book by Paul Gallico for children about a Magician. I can't remember it's name. Do you know it? It was all about the joy of being alive. I read it every year to my ten and eleven year olds. Why can't I remember what it was called?

Justine Picardie said...

I've been searching for this, and can't find it -- but I really want to, because it sounds wonderful. Will let you know if I track it down!

Table Talk said...

Justine, I tracked it down. It was called 'The Man Who Was Magic' and is now both difficult and expensive to source. If you can find a library copy though do read it. It was wonderful.

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks for tracking down the title -- and I'm definitely going to look out for it in second hand bookshops and jumble sales. Sadly, our local library doesn't seem to have it.

Karen said...

I managed to get a copy of Mrs. Harris after reading your post. It's absolutely delightful! Thanks so much for recommending it.

Strickmuse said...

What a coincidence that I find this entry. I was just thinking about a book that I read as a child and loved dearly, The Day the Guinea-Pig Talked by Paul Gallico (1963). A great childrens' book which I still have and love to turn back to. The illustrations of are also wonderful, I have to check who made them. (Since then I love guinea pigs)
Susanne

kevinhil123 said...

Gallico is a self-described "storyteller." Many of his stories are told in the apparently artless style of a folk tale or legend. Like other "storyteller" writers, the charm and power lie in something about the cumulative effect of plainly told detail after plainly told detail.

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Arleen said...

What a great book, I read them as a recommendation from a professor of the University, he told me that books are life changing, I think he was exaggerating, but they are very good books.


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