Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris


Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris / Paul Gallico
NY: Bloomsbury, 2022, c1963
320 p.

I've always known about this book but didn't read it until recently; I finally picked it up when this movie cover edition crossed my desk at the library. It's a fairly short book but it was a delight to read. It was published in the 60s but there isn't too much in it that is terribly dated to ruin it, which is always nice. 

Mrs. Harris is a London char-woman who is always positive and down-to-earth. She has her regulars who she cleans for; some are lovely and some are, well, not so much. But when she's cleaning Lady Dant's apartment, she sees the most beautiful thing she's ever seen in her life: a Dior dress. She determines at that moment that she is going to have one, despite how ridiculous it sounds. 

And so she embarks on a savings journey, squirrelling away every extra penny and even going to the track. After two years of determination, she heads to Paris on her quest. But there is so much she doesn't know, like that you don't just walk into Dior like it's Woolworths and pick up a dress off the rack. But fortune favours the bold, and despite barriers in her way, she is put in the path of so many people who decide to help this charming lady. And she passes any help and good fortune she has on to others, too, taking joy in the small things of life and valuing love and connection. 

There are some events near the end that I wished the author had decided differently about, but in the main this is a charming book with a sense of joy and community, leaving you with a definite feel-good vibe. I thought it was full of the delight of Paris and of course of Dior and dressmaking in general -- there are employees and customers of Dior who befriend and help Mrs. Harris, and even a cameo by the great man himself. There are dreamy descriptions of dresses and fabrics and ateliers, as well as of the beautiful streets and markets of Paris. It's so lovely. 

I enjoyed this one so much that I immediately watched the new movie. Unfortunately it doesn't have the same uplifting charm; it highlights a little more of the disappointments and dissatisfactions in the story. It was a good film and Leslie Manville was great as Mrs. Harris, but there is no real 'edge' to the book while there is in the film, and perhaps it was because I had just finished the book two days before the film that I wasn't completely taken with it. I'd say that with this one, as with most book to film experiences, be sure to read the book first if you can ;) This edition also included a second novel, Mrs. Harris Goes to New York, but that one is missable. There is none of the charm of dressmaking and Paris, and it definitely loses something for it, becoming more sentimental than delightful. Stick with Paris and Dior and you'll enjoy the reading!

(this review first appeared on Following The Thread)

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