Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Pumpkin Eater; Penelope Mortimer

Author: Penelope Mortimer 
Publication Year: 1962 / 2011 (NYRB)
Publisher: New York Review Book Classics
Edition: softcover
Source: My Stacks
Date Completed: 5/22/2011 
Setting: London
Rating: 4/5
Recommend: yes

The Pumpkin Eater is an interesting story, which takes place in London, and is reported to be somewhat autobiographical. The story begins with an unnamed woman talking with her therapist Mr Simpkin. We learn the woman is Mrs. Armitage. She's been married (4) times, she hates dust and messes, and has (8) children from her previous marriages. She seems to be her own worst enemy. Her current husband Jake and she have been married (13) years and, she wants to have a baby with him, but Jake does not. Jake's a womanizer, and he has a bit of a temper as well. The last thing he wants is another child in the house, in fact he wants to send his wife's (3) oldest boys off to boarding school.  Mrs A seems only to know how to reproduce. Her whole identify has been tied to having babies.  She has servants, so she need not worry about caring for the babies once she has them. When she does become pregnant once again, abortion is discussed, decisions need to be made. Mrs A is forced to examine her marriage and her life.

There was a lot to think about in this book. It covered the age old topics of marriage, motherhood and fidelity in oftentimes humorous fashion. I was a little surprised that abortion was raised in this story, since this book was originally published in 1962 London. While I liked the book enough to recommend it, for a 222 page book, it took me a while to complete it. It was one of those books that I read at lunch on a few workdays, but wasn't obsessed about finishing it when I got home in  the evening.

I couldn't stop thinking about the nursery rhyme by a similar name throughout this read......"Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater had a wife and couldn't keep her  ". I was curious about the origin of this rhyme (according to Wikki). While in the nursery rhyme, Peter .... "put her (his wife) in a pumpkin shell ", in this story, although the Armitages' live in the city, Jack builds a glass tower in the country, for their "happy years", and his wife escapes to the tower for much needed quiet contemplation about her life.  

This book is a bit different, but I can see many of my readers enjoying it.


  1. It sounds like a contemplative book. I enjoy something like this from time to time.

  2. This book sounds fascinating! Several things surprised me: Mrs. Armitage is on her 4th marriage and yet her husband doesn't sound like a very nice man, she has 8 children but still wants another, she's speaking to a therapist - I didn't realize anyone went for counseling in the early '60s and she gets pregnant despite her husband's wish to get rid of the children in the house and he doesn't want another one! Finally, I was surprised that abortion is discussed! I think Mrs. Armitage needs a better therapist and husband!
    I like the themes and I'm glad you mentioned there's some humor in this book. I laughed when you brought up the nursery rhyme you kept thinking about!

    I really enjoyed your review, Diane. I certainly want to know what happens to poor Mrs. A and all her children!

  3. It does sound interesting. If I see it at one of my library sales, I'll have to pick it up. Great review, Diane!

  4. I saw the film of this recently and it was interesting and disturbing. It stars Anne Bancroft and she was excellent in it. Do look it up if you can find it. I'd love to try some Penelope Mortimer and I'm glad to know that NYRB has reissued this otherwise hard to find book.

  5. A new one for me - thanks for the review.

  6. This sounds kind of interesting... I immediately thought of the nursery rhyme too.

  7. I like books about marriage, but Mrs Armitage may too much for me!

  8. I do love stories set in London during the sixties so I am intrigued by this one.

  9. I remember the 60s, despite that old saying that if you remember the 60s, you weren't there. Anyway, abortion certainly was discussed then but it was back alley stuff, but I don't remember that people actually went to therapists - except for the rich and famous.

  10. I also think it's interesting that abortion was discussed in this book, given the time frame that it was written. This might be something that I would like, but I am not completely sure just yet. May have to do some more research. Thanks for the excellent review!

  11. It almost sounds like having babies was her "hobby." IT does sound more contemporary in a few ways.

  12. I definitely would like to read this. It sounds different and surely interesting!

  13. This sounds like a very interesting book


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