Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico

I found this, and its three sequels, in the January book reviews section over at J.Kaye's. I recognized the title of the first book, for it was a made for TV movie starring Angela Lansbury. I love Angela Lansbury, and I loved the movie when I first saw it back in high school (and haven't seen it since, since there's no DVD).

This book was published in 1958, and a lot of the language used is very much 1950s England. Some of the customs I did not fully understand, such as the reference to the football lottery. However, as the novel progressed, I was able to overlook details such as this.
Ada Harris is a widow who makes her living as a charwoman, or as Gallico puts it, a "char." She cleans the flats in a wealthy section of London known as Belgravia. She lives very modestly, in a basement flat. Her best friend, Violet Butterfield, lives next door and is a fellow char.

Mrs. 'Arris (Gallico is very good at spelling out the Cockney accents) is cleaning the flat of the Lady Gant one morning when she starts to tidy up her wardrobe. She opens it up, and sets her eyes on the most exquisite creation she's ever seen: a red Christian Dior dress. She is so enchanted by the beauty of the dress that she resolves, that day, to own a Dior gown of her very own.
And so begins the period of scrimping, saving, and sacrificing. Mrs. 'Arris goes without her fresh cut flowers, she goes without her weekly pub visits, and even goes without her tea. (Well, she does keep some, but not as much as in the past). After nearly three years, she has enough money to buy her Dior gown.

So Mrs. 'Arris goes to Paris, thinking that the House of Dior is another department store like Marks and Spencer, or, in our country, Macy's. When her taxi cab drops her off at the famed style center, Mrs. 'Arris is a little bewildered. Where are all the racks of dresses?

At first, the employees of Dior don't know what to do with this London char who is not the typical figure to come and purchase a Dior dress. But as Ada 'Arris spends more time in Paris, they start to grow fond of her.
The relationships that Mrs. 'Arris forms with the employees is such an important part of the book, a part that transcends the original storyline. Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris is about much more than the simple act of buying a couture gown. The determination of a poor London charwoman to buy something so luxurious, something that she never thought she'd possess, is really touching. But I was more moved by the compassion that the Dior employees showed this woman. This was human nature at its best.
All in all, it's a very charming book, a very quick read, but one that will stay with you for a long time afterward.
**This is the latest entry in my 100+ Reading Challenge, my 1st in a Series Challenge, and my Support Your Local Library Challenge. Get a look at my lists of books by clicking on the buttons in the sidebar!**


Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

You make books sound so interesting. I should read one some time...

Jenners said...

This actually sounds quite interesting and charming. It didn't sound quite like my cup of tea but now I'm thinking it might be enjoyable. And one of my challenges is to read something I wouldn't normally read! Great review!