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[503] Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade – Patrick Dennis

” Nobody could deny that she has taste, though sometimes a little bizarre. However, Auntie Mame possessed certain qualities that are important in commercial decorating: she was charming, she had flair and originality, and she knew a lot of influential people. ” (Ch.3, p.43)

This book is like an ongoing party with the gayest hostess. Auntie Mame is enchanting and gorgeously funny. Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade is about a boy’s adventures growing up with his aunt, an outrageously eccentric New York socialite. According to his later-deceased father, she is a “very peculiar woman and to be left in her hands was a fate he wouldn’t wish a dog but beggars can’t be choosers and she’s the only living relative.” (Ch.2, p.22) She is to be Patrick’s guardian until he turns 18.

I just want you to go out there and act like a normal human being. Gloria and her family already like you a lot from the two times they’ve seen you . . . and if you can just act the way you did then, everything’ll be just fine. But they don’t have to know what you used to be in the chores of Chu Chin Chow and they don’t have to know about all your queer friends on Fire Island . . . (Ch.8, p.196)

The novel is narrated by the nephew, Patrick Dennis himself, who is delivered, as a ten-year-old orphan, into his Auntie Mame’s terrifyingly overdecorated Beekman Place deplex, where he arrives amid a jabbering cocktail party, with guests consisting of couple where “the man looked like a woman, and the woman, except for her tweed skirt, was almost a perfect Ramon Navarro.” (Ch.1, p.12) The party rages on, replete with references to death and murder—and the hostess, dressed like a Japanese geisha, is beyond the little boy’s recognition. His nanny, Norah, comes to the conclusion that Mame is operating a bordello/opium den and that she and Patrick have been sold into slavery.

Actually, Auntie Mame and I learned to love one another in as brief and painless a period as possible. That her amazing personality would attract me, just as it had seduced thousands of others, was a foregone conclusion. Her helter-skelter charm was, after all, notorious, and she was also the first real family I ever knew. (Ch.2, p.24)

Indeed, Auntie Mame becomes more than his guardian. I can see that Mame is an icon, even today. She is our Alice in Wonderland all grown up, smarter, wittier and more interesting than Mary Poppins, and I wish that she had been sent to Oz instead of that Dorothy girl or allowed to poke around the back of C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe. No other heroine of modern fiction would have kept the Japanese Ito in her employ, or stood up to such ugly anti-Semitism in polite New York society. She rallies behind a pregnant Agnes Gooch and looks after her nephew. She is the diva, exerting a sterling influence on a child’s imagination. She is vain, fearing of aging. She is both mocked and adored for her own considerable affectations and theatrical dementia. This book is a drunken fairy tale, an airy comedy of manners. It defines what it means to be “camp”.

299 pp. Broadway Books. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

7 Responses

  1. She’s a kick, isn’t she? I thoroughly enjoyed this and the sequel when I read them–very much of an era, but a fun one. I am glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  2. I enjoyed the musical, but I didn’t know it was a book. I’ll have to check it out.

  3. I love this book. It’s so sweet, and funny, and immensely clever. The dinner with the two antisemists is a piece of art !

  4. […] Matthew of A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook reminds me of one of the classic madcap novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. Many of you may be more familiar with the movie. or the Broadway play. The novel details the adventures of a young boy growing up as the ward of his eccentric Aunt. If you haven’t read the book yet it is definitely worth a look. Matthew writes, “This book is like an ongoing party with the gayest hostess. Auntie Mame is enchanting and gorgeously funny.” If you haven’t read it, you should give it a try. The perfect anecdote for a gray afternoon. […]

  5. […] like Book Soup in Los Angeles, Logos Books and Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz. The playful Auntie Mame, recommended by Danielle when she was here for a visit, kicked off the month. The funny and […]

  6. I adore the movie version with Rosalind Russell, but I have yet to read the book.

  7. […] [503] Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade – Patrick Dennis […]

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