Thursday, 17 January 2013

Auntie Mame - Patrick Dennis

Patrick is a child of 10 when his father, the surviving parent, dies.  He is passed to his father's sister, the Auntie Mame of the title, for guardianship, love, affection, and upbringing (although it will come as a great shock to him as to the manner of it all).  Mame is a larger than life character.   She has money (which ebbs and flows, depending on her fortunes or who she is married to at the time) and loves company.  Parties?  the woman invented them!  His father's lawyer, who is overseeing his life and his investments until he is of age, has, following a long and difficult meeting with Mame, arranged for him to attend a "good" boarding school; and on each visit home he's treated like the prodigal son.  But of course, whilst this book whisks through Patrick's life from school, to army life, to marriage over a course of around 20 years ( It's set during the 1920's 30's and 40s), it is really about the Auntie Mame!  She falls in and out of love at the drop of a hat, she picks up trends and goes with them, she enlarges Patrick's vocabulary no end.  She takes on the accent and lifestyle of her lovers, too, and this makes for some really funny scenes.  I really thought the writing style was a delight - it made me want to keep reading just another chapter just to see what Mame would cook up next!
A warning though, one of the chapters is about a character who makes some nasty anti-semetic remarks during a heated dinner party ( the book was first published in 1955), but the very manner of Mame's put-down of that character is worthy of a very loud cheer.

I started the book under the delusion that it was non fiction, and a friend said not necessarily, and she was right - in a way.  Patrick Dennis was a pen name - a pen name for someone with an even larger life than Mame, but I won't spoil it for you except to say that if you are in anyway interested about real people's lives, please don't leave out the Afterward in the book (the Penguin Modern Classics edition with pink cover)  - which explains and enlightens. It spurred me on to research and read about the real Patrick Dennis too - there is a biography (Uncle Mame:  The Life of Patrick Dennis by Eric Myers), which I think is definitely worth following up, and an old film, with Rosalind Russell in the title role to look out for.   And there really was an Aunt - not Mame, but Marion - but Mame is just so worth getting to know.  I can't imagine how this book passed me by for so many years.