Books & Literature

Book Review: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico

GENERAL FICTION: the feel-good classic will be a major film, starring Leslie Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Jason Isaacs and Lucas Bravo.

Gallico still manages to charm after all these years.

Paul Gallico was a mid-20th century author of large output and enormous popularity. Although never quite Booker-Prize material, many of his works over the years have endured in the hearts of readers, as well as being adapted for the screen: The Snow Goose, The Love of Seven Dolls (made into the Leslie Caron film Lilly), and The Poseidon Adventure. One of his most popular characters was Mrs. Harris, a big-hearted and widowed London charlady in her early 60s, working everyday cleaning the houses of the rich and famous. Gallico wrote several stories in which she is the protagonist.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris has just been made into a film starring Lesley Manville in the eponymous role. With its release this October, Bloomsbury has taken the opportunity to re-release the novella in a movie tie-in edition. This edition also includes the sequel, Mrs. Harris Goes to New York.

Paul Gallico was an unashamedly populist writer. He could deal with hard-edged material when he needed to. His background as a journalist for the New York Daily News no doubt kept him grounded. Yet he clearly enjoyed fantasy and stories with sugar-coating. The Mrs. Harris books are often referred to as “fairy-tales”. In her world, seemingly magical things happen amongst the brooms and mops, and despite adversity, everything always works out for the best. In Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Ada Harris is cleaning one of her client’s houses when she espies two of the most beautiful items she has ever seen: a pair of Dior gowns. She decides that she wants a Dior gown more than anything, and sets to scrimping and saving to get to Paris. When she finally arrives at the famous Avenue Montaigne workshop, she meets people whose lives she will change forever, and vice versa.

In 2022, Gallico’s portrait of the working-class Mrs. Harris could be seen as insulting. Even for its time (the late ‘50s) it was rather patronising: after all, this was also the time of the working-class of Steinbeck, Sillitoe, and other ground-roots writers. But Mrs. Harris is no more ridiculous than Mary Poppins or Caractacus Potts (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). This is fairy-tale land we are in.

Gallico was always a writer of charm. And although many of his plots were twee, there are times when his writing reaches the sublime. He knew how to pull the heartstrings without descending into complete corn. And he could also be sharply witty when the mood came upon him.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a delightful read. This new edition is an opportunity to reacquaint yourself with Gallico, or get to know him for the first time. The film will be released on October 27 so grab the book and read it before then.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: July 2022
RRP: $19.99

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