“The small, slender woman with apple-red cheeks, greying hair, and shrewd, almost naughty little eyes sat with her face pressed against the cabin window of the BEA Viscount on the morning flight from London to Paris. As, with a rush and a roar, it lifted itself from the runway, her spirits soared aloft with it. She was nervous, but not at all frightened, for she was convinced that nothing could happen to her now. Hers was the bliss of one who knew that at last she was off upon the adventure at the end of which lay her heart’s desire.”
That’s Mrs Ada Harris, a widowed London cleaning lady. A practical woman and a reliable worker, she left her good friend Mrs Violet Butterfield to look after her clients while she was away.
She’s honest and open, and definitely a glass half full person. I liked her from the start.
And though her life might seem drab and humdrum to many, Mrs Harris knows and loves beauty and colour.
“Outside the windows of her basement flat were two window boxes of geraniums, her favourite flower, and inside, wherever there was room, stood a little pot containing a geranium, struggling desperately to conquer its environment, or a single hyacinth or a tulip, bought from a barrow for a hard-earned shilling.”
And it was that love of beauty and colour that called Mrs Harris to Paris. It all started when one of her clients left her wardrobe door open …
“But now as she stood before the stunning creations hanging in the wardrobe she found herself face to face with a new kind of beauty – an artificial one created by the hand of man, the artist, but aimed directly and cunningly at the heart of woman. In that very instant she fell victim to the artist; at that very moment there was born within her the craving to possess such a garment.”
It wasn’t that she thought it would transform her, that she would ever have an occasion to wear such a dress; it was just that she wanted to own, see and feel such a garment.
And it didn’t occur to her that such things weren’t for the likes of her. The price was a shock, but she was determined to find the money. There were some ups and downs, tears and laughter, along the way, but eventually she did it. And that was how she found herself flying over the English Channel.
The storytelling is lovely. I read about Mrs Harris’s adventure in the same way that I read the books I loved as a child. I was completely captivated, living every moment, reacting to everything, wishing and hoping…
Buying the dress wasn’t as simple as she thought it would be. Well French fashion houses aren’t like London shops!
Some of the people she met looked down their noses at the common char-woman, but others where charmed by her sincerity and the clarity of her ambition.
There were more ups and downs, tears and laughter, before Mrs Harris found her dress, but, in the end, find it she did. And she made friends and had quite an effect along the way.
It made a lovely story. About the importance of dreams, about what you can do to make them come true, and about just what really is important in life.
There is much light, but just the right amount of shadow too.
And the ending! Just when I thought that a simple, heartwarming story was winding down it took a turn into something very special, full of all kinds of emotions, and the very thing that the word “bittersweet” was created to describe.
I was very sorry to part company with Mrs Harris, but we will be meeting again. She appears in three more novels.
And The Bloomsbury Group will soon be reissuing this book, under the American title “Mrs Harris Goes to Paris” together with the first sequel “Mrs Harris Goes to New York”.
I wonder what calls Mrs Harris to New York …