Mrs Harris Goes to Paris & New York by Paul Gallico

I have been itching to read the Mrs Harris books ever since Claire talked about them so wonderfully a few months ago. This handsome bright pink paperback combines the first two Mrs Harris books, in which the London char lady with a heart of gold finds herself having unlikely adventures in two of the world’s most remarkable cities, Paris and New York. Mrs Harris has had quite a lot of exposure in the blogosphere of late, and normally I get annoyed when everyone is talking about the same books ad nauseum but this one really does deserve to be talked about, a lot. I seem to have hit the reading jackpot in the last couple of weeks; first Anne of Green Gables, which left me dancing on clouds of happiness and delight, and now Mrs Harris… , which has both restored my faith in humanity and left me dizzy at the possibilities of life. Like L M Montgomery, Paul Gallico has created a character filled with such life and warmth and laughter and tenacity that I closed the pages feeling like I had left a friend behind, and my heart and soul had been encouraged, uplifted and warmed by her presence. It’s a rare find to come across a book that can move and engage you so completely, and leave an impression that will change the way you look at the world around you. The Mrs Harris books are just that, and I urge you to read them!

Mrs Harris goes to Paris introduces the indomitable, apple cheeked char lady Mrs Harris, a Londoner of a certain age who ‘does’ for the wealthy residents of Belgravia (this is the area between Sloane Square, Hyde Park and Knightsbridge, by the way – think wide roads of tall white stucco houses and private garden squares that nobody apart from the very wealthy could ever hope to afford). She lives two doors down from her fellow char and best friend Mrs Butterfield, who always imagines the worst of everything and has no desire to leave the comfort of her small flat and her tea kettle. The two women love their jobs, and what they love best is the gossip they pick up from their glamorous clients about the rich and famous people they mix with.

One day, Mrs Harris spots a beautiful Christian Dior dress in the wardrobe of one of her clients, and decides that she must have one. To Mrs Harris, the dress represents everything she has never had; glamour, sophistication, beauty; a window into a way of life that she could never dream of experiencing. She finds out that the cost of such a dress is £450; a fortune to a woman who earns £1 a week. Despite the impossibility of such a sum, once Mrs Harris has made her mind up about something, there is never any going back. Mrs Harris decides she will go to Paris and buy herself a Dior dress, no matter what it takes. Through a spot of luck and sheer willpower, she does eventually amass the necessary cash after two years of scrimping and saving, and heads off to Paris to achieve her dream.

On arrival, Mrs Harris finds herself swept into the lives of staff and customers of the House of Dior, who are all enchanted and inspired by her strength of character and good heart. Mrs Harris’ presence and the fairytale quality of her journey from London slum to Paris couture showroom seems to bring a new sense of hopefulness and joy to the lives of those she comes into contact with. By the time she leaves to go back to London, no one is the same, including Mrs Harris. Her desire to obtain the Dior dress doesn’t turn out with the exact results she expects, as there is a nasty twist that teaches Mrs Harris a valuable lesson, but the positive effect Mrs Harris’ adventure has on everyone involved is far more valuable than the dress she has saved so hard for. It is this realisation of the value of friendship, positivity, self belief and taking joy in the simple things, that is the true treasure Mrs Harris brings back from Paris.

I LOVED Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, and while Mrs Harris Goes to New York is also very charming, it didn’t have quite the same magic; it’s very much a sequel and wouldn’t stand alone, as it implies a knowledge of the events of its predecessor. Even so, as a follow on from Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, it is a welcome continuation of the lives and adventures of several favourite characters. The basic plot revolves around a young abandoned boy who lives next door to Mrs Harris and regularly gets beaten by his foster parents. The product of an illadvised liaison between an American GI and a flighty waitress, he was dumped in Battersea by his mother when she got a new partner, and Mrs Harris is of the belief that if only the boy’s father could be made aware of his predicament, then he would want his son to live with him in America. Mrs Harris therefore decides she will go to America and find little Henry’s father, and, as luck would have it, an American couple whom Mrs Harris ‘does’ for, the Schreibers, need to move back to New York for work reasons as the book opens. Mrs Schreiber wants to take Mrs Harris with her to help her set up her new home, and Mrs Harris agrees, if she is allowed to bring Mrs Butterfield too. Plans are then made to smuggle little Henry along with them, and handily, an old friend from Paris is also onboard the boat to New York to help with the difficulty of getting the smuggled child through immigration. Many misunderstandings, difficulties and surprises ensue during the journey to find Henry’s new father, and Mrs Harris also gets to enjoy the many sights and sounds of New York,  learning a fair few life lessons for good measure along the way. Charming and heartwarming, it also made me very excited to arrive in New York!

These books are lovely, life affirming reads that will encourage you to believe in everyday miracles in your own life. Mrs Harris is a wonderful heroine who you’ll be rooting for all the way, and Paul Gallico manages to weave stories that have a moral heart without being saccharine or twee. I felt exhilarated after reading these, and reminded that ordinary life can become extraordinary, if only we are prepared to be brave enough to make it so. I can’t recommend Mrs Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs Harris Goes to New York enough; they are not to be missed!

24 comments

  1. First off: I love the vibrant hot pink cover! I don’t think I’d be able to pass up a book with such a pretty cover going for it.

    Second, reading your synopsis of this book, I was reminded subtly of Winifred Watson’s “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”. Have you read that book? Given your enjoyment of this one, I think you’d really like it; it definitely has that gentle, life-affirming vibe going to it (it’s a Persephone, after all!) like this one does.

    1. I know, it’s a beautiful colour! It looked lovely on my bedside table!

      Yes, it is very much like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day in its whimsicalness and dreams-come-true-for-ordinary-people story – I have read and very much enjoyed it. If you loved Miss P you’ll adore Mrs Harris!

  2. I read this years and years ago and thought I’d stumbled upon something special. But I only acquired a lovely old hardback of it for myself this year. No idea they had been reprinted! Reminds me a little of Miss P too.

  3. Rachel, these sound like such delightful fun and must be part of even more Mrs. Harris books. Thank you so much for sharing, especially since you are surely packing up for your own adventure in New York.

    1. They are Penny! I’m certain you’d love them! You are so welcome – this is a joyful distraction from the boredom of packing which I haven’t even started properly yet! Oh well!

  4. This sounds delightful! Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm. I ran across a second-hand copy of ‘Mrs Harris goes to New York’ just this weekend and decided not to buy, mainly because there were so many other books I also wanted to buy. I am glad I didn’t now, because I would really like to read them in order.

    1. Hello Femke! Thank you for reading! Oh yes, you definitely can’t read Mrs Harris Goes to New York before reading Mrs Harris Goes to Paris first, so you did right to wait! I hope you come across a copy soon to experience the delights of Mrs Harris!

  5. I’m delighted that you were similarly charmed by Mrs Harris and her exploits, Rachel. I have yet to read of her adventures in New York and now itching to do so.

    Gallico has much to teach about the simplicity yet far-reaching consequences of human kindness.

    1. I’m sure you’d love her adventures in New York too, Claire!

      Yes he does – I would have liked to have met him. He’s quite difficult to define as a writer of a particular genre and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

  6. We were talking about this very book after we had finalized The Green Carnation Longlist yesterday and were just gossiping about books and all the other judges said the same as you – its simply a must read. So I must turn to it soon!

  7. I love Mrs. Harris too! These are the best of Gallico’s books, in my opinion (apart from Jennie). Mostly it seems to me his books are both funny and sad, with the balance of the book leaning toward the sad side. But the Mrs. Harris one comes out funny and sweet, rather than depressing.

    1. I’m so glad! Yes I’ve heard Jennie is brilliant – shame it’s out of print! I will have to track it down one day. I want to read more of his books but I know what you mean – even Mrs Harris has its tinges of melancholic wistfulness and I like to keep those sort of books on the positive rather than sad side!

  8. I like the sound of these (although I’m always going to wish someone got the dress they wanted as well as friendship, especialy when it’s Dior). I like that this is a book focusing on an older women too, we’ll all be older one day and I imagine we’ll all want fabulous stories we can sort of see ourselves in.

    1. Well maybe you wouldn’t be disappointed on that front Jodie!

      Yes that’s very true – dream come true books are always about under 30’s and Mrs Harris shows how it’s never too late to have adventures and achieve dreams. I’m certain you’d love this!

  9. This is the only book out of the new group of Bloomsburys that I managed to get before I started my book buying ban! I can’t wait to read it and have heard only good things about it. On a side note–I have gotten atrociously behind in blog reading and have several weeks worth of posts to catch up with–but in case I miss anymore posts before your new journey begins–Have a great trip to NYC and I can’t wait to hear about your new adventures!!🙂

    1. How serendipitious! I’m certain you’d absolutely love it, Danielle.

      Oh thank you Danielle! I haven’t got long to go now and I can’t wait to update you all when I arrive!🙂

  10. I read this recently and loved it for all the above reasons. The way you;ve described Mrs Harris goes to New York as not being able to stand alone now makes sense as to why it;s together. I raced through ‘Paris’ and very early on with ‘New York’ realised it wasn’t going to be as strong. I still enjoyed it. Will you be able to do a literary trail of Mrs Harris goes to NY?

    1. I would imagine this is just the sort of book you’d love!🙂 Yes – New York is not anywhere near as strong as Paris but it’s still lovely. Yes I am – also a movie trail of You’ve Got Mail, which I can’t wait for – it’s what first made me desperate to live in New York!

  11. You and I are drawn to the same books. I love the Mrs. ‘Harris books, own copies, and have read them many times. I totally agree with you that the second isn’t as strong as the first but they are both such fun.

    I don’t know why this book comes to mind but as you start your adventures in the new world, you might want to track down a book about two young women’s adventures in the old: “Our Hearts were Young and Gay,” by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough. They went to England and France in the ’20s when they were 19. Laugh out loud funny.

    “Consequences” wasn’t funny in the least, but what a good book! Persephone Press has such an interesting book list.

    1. Hi Judy! How wondeful that you had already got to know and love Mrs Harris. I’m so pleased that these reprint publishers exist as I know I’d never have heard of these fantastic novels without them. It makes me admire those, such as you, who are such intrepid readers!

      Thank you for that wonderful recommendation – it sounds fantastic! I am definitely going to seek it out!

  12. Hi! There is also a third Mrs Harries novel. “Vote for Mrs Harries! It lacks some of the magic of “Flowers for Mrs Harries” aka “Mrs Harries goes to Paris”, but it is a nice read.
    Thank you for recommending “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”. I had never heard of it and I have alredy order it. Amazon.uk.com is perfect for Norwegian readers!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s