Synopses & Reviews
The Pumpkin Eater
is a surreal black comedy about the wages of adulthood and the pitfalls of parenthood. A nameless woman speaks, at first from the precarious perch of a therapist’s couch, and her smart, wry, confiding, immensely sympathetic voice immediately captures and holds our attention. She is the mother of a vast, swelling brood of children, also nameless, and the wife of a successful screenwriter, Jake Armitage. The Armitages live in the city, but they are building a great glass tower in the country in which to settle down and live happily ever after. But could that dream be nothing more than a sentimental delusion? At the edges of vision the spectral children come and go, while our heroine, alert to the countless gradations of depression and the innumerable forms of betrayal, tries to make sense of it all: doctors, husbands, movie stars, bodies, grocery lists, nursery rhymes, messes, aging parents, memories, dreams, and breakdowns. How to pull it all together? Perhaps you start by falling apart.
Our unnamed narrator is the mother of countless children, also nameless, from several marriages, and the wife of the successful screenwriter Jake Armitage. The Armitages are building a glass tower in the countryside where they first met, where their large family may or may not be able to live happily ever after. The Pumpkin Eater begins in a psychiatrist's office, and from that moment, the narrator seems to dare us to diagnose her, and perhaps society as well, raising questions about men and women, sex and reproduction, but refusing to answer them. She testifies to a life full not only of children-though the children are only occasionally seen or heard, their presence, intruding on a grim adult world of movie stars and doctors, adultery and depression, is palpable-but also of bodies, grocery lists, nursery rhymes, messes, aging parents, memories, dreams, and breakdowns. Yet her voice is smart, raw, wry, and deeply sympathetic, and the prose is surprisingly spare and elegant in this exquisitely surreal black comedy.
About the Author
Penelope Mortimer (1918–1999) was born Penelope Ruth Fletcher in North Wales, the younger of two children of an Anglican clergyman father and his wife. The family moved often, and Penelope was educated at half a dozen institutions before spending a year at the University of London. In 1937 she married the journalist Charles Dimont, with whom she had two daughters. Two more daughters by two different men would follow before, in 1949, she divorced Dimont and married the barrister, novelist, and playwright John Mortimer, with whom she had another daughter and her only son. The Mortimers were celebrated as “the last word in marital chic,” but the marriage was tumultuous and the couple divorced in 1972. In addition to The Pumpkin Eater
(1962), made into a 1964 film from a screenplay by Harold Pinter and starring Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch, Mortimer published several other novels, including Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting
(1958), Long Distance
(1974), and The Handyman
(1983); a travel book co-authored with John Mortimer, With Love and Lizards
(1957); and a biography of the Queen Mother. She also served as a film critic for the London Observer
and was a regular contributor of short stories to The New Yorker.
The first volume of her autobiography About Time
(1979) was awarded the Whitbread Prize and was followed by About Time Too
Daphne Merkin is the author of Enchantment, a novel and Dreaming of Hitler, a collection of essays. Her cultural criticism has appeared in a range of publications, including Vogue and The
American Scholar, and has been widely anthologized. She has been a staff writer for The New Yorker, and is currently a contributing writer at Elle and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in New York City, where she teaches writing, and is at work on a memoir, Melancholy Baby.