Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Review: The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax
by Dorothy Gilman

This book was recommended to me by my friend S (of the State Fair adventures).  She and I share a taste in somewhat-feminist-but-not-really fantasy novels, among other things.

The novel opens with Mrs. Pollifax visiting her doctor.  During the course of their conversation, we learn that 1. her husband is deceased, 2. her children are grown and live far away, 3. she is in good health "for a woman of her age", and 4. she feels she has outlived her usefulness.  The doctor recommends that she find a meaningful hobby, something she actually likes, as opposed to the clubs and volunteer work she does to keep busy, but secretly loathes.

As it turns out, as a child, Mrs. Pollifax always wanted to be... a spy.  So at whatever age she is (we can safely assume over 65), she makes an appointment with the CIA, and asks to join.  Due to certain scheduling mix-ups, she is actually given an assignment!  Hilarity ensues.

Not just hilarity, though.  Throughout the novel, we find that Mrs. Pollifax is made of stronger stuff than we, and the CIA, might have suspected.  When she finds herself in dire situations, it is Mrs. P, not the trained CIA agent, who makes plans to escape.  It is Mrs. P who befriends her communist jailers and wheedles special favors and useful items from them.  It is Mrs. P who is ultimately responsible for the top-secret information getting back to headquarters.

Not to get too heavy, but a character like Mrs. P makes us reexamine all the older ladies we know, who seem to live such sensible, somewhat mindless lives.  Mrs. P outwardly engages in all the activities we expect: Garden Club, the soup kitchen, listening to her neighbor talk about her travel slides.  But inside, she is possessed of a quick wit and a deep compassion for all people, even her so-called "enemies".

Grade: B+.  Very nearly an A-.  Lost points for predictability, but scored very high on humor and delightful characters.

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