Monday 4 July 2016

#CBR8 Book 68: "Auntie Mame: An Irreverant Escapade" by Patrick Dennis

Page count: 299 pages
Rating: 4 stars

After little Patrick's father dies, he is left to the care of his eccentric and adventurous aunt, Mame. His childhood goes from one of routine and order to one rather more unusual, and over the course of his adolescence and early adulthood, his colourful Auntie Mame keeps providing him with amazing anecdotes. Each chapter starts with the author reading about some saintly spinster from New England who took in an orphan, leading to his own recollections of his life with his aunt. Suffice to say, anything the spinster did in the Digest article he's reading, Mame did too, only more elaborately and with a lot more hijinks.

While little Patrick's father wanted him raised with a proper, conservative education, Mame tries to enrol him at an experimental school, which enrages the head of his financial trust enough that he's sent off to boarding school. Mame eventually marries a fabulously wealthy Southern gentleman and does her best to become a proper Southern Belle, and where ordinary mortals may have broken their necks, she impresses the entire neighbourhood by staying on the back of an absolute monster of a horse throughout a long hunt.

When she is sadly widowed, Mame is nonetheless left wealthy beyond imagining, and sets out to write her memoir, until her mousy assistant elopes with her ghost-writer. Said assistant is then left pregnant and distraught, with Mame showing up shortly before Patrick's graduation from St. Boniface's Academy, absolutely careless of any danger to his academic record or reputation, determined that together they will help bring forth the unfortunate child to the world.

During his college years, Mame's lavish parties greatly impress Patrick's college chums, and as he grows older, his free-spirited and outrageous aunt does her best to try to help him smoothly through the vagaries of romance. During the war, she nearly kills both Patrick and herself trying to foster displaced war orphans, who sadly turn out to seemingly be demons in child form. Once Patrick finally does find a wife and beget a child of his own, Mame returns after multiple year abroad to tempt her great-nephew with tales of adventure and promises of journeys to exotic locations.

Growing up in Norway, I was entirely unaware of Auntie Mame, the 1955 novel that was turned into a movie, a Broadway play and a musical (which was also filmed). My best friend Lydia gifted me the book several years ago, and I have to admit it languished on my shelves until now, when I finally picked it up and was absolutely delighted. While some of Mame's escapades had me sympathising greatly with Patrick and rolling my eyes at her more outrageous turns of phrase and crazy schemes, I was also mostly entertained throughout. The book, which is more like a collection of short stories with a common framing device, that a continuous narrative, suggests that if Dennis, who based Auntie Mame on his real life aunt, experienced even half of the things he writes about in the book, he had a very eventful coming of age, indeed.

Apparently there is a sequel as well, about Patrick and Auntie Mame's travels around the world after he graduated St. Boniface and I suspect I am going to have to read that too. Having now had the joys to finally get to know Auntie Mame, I can't wait to see what she'd get up to travelling around Europe and possibly beyond. Thank you, Lydia, I'm terribly sorry it took me so long to read the book.

Judging a book by its cover: I absolutely love the cover for this book. The cover artist, John Fontana, did SUCH a good job. The yellow background has a textured pattern, evoking a brocade wallpaper, with the decadent Mame to the right of the cover, wearing a stunning gown and dripping in pearls and jewelry, as is only right and proper for a woman of her formidable wealth. Her darling boy, Patrick is clearly only a young child, wearing his school uniform, complete with short pants and a cute little red cap. On the back cover, which is mostly red, the lovely Mame is lounging at top of the page, resting on one elbow with a martini glass in her other hand. It's a lovely touch.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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