Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax

Title:  The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax
Author:  Dorothy Gilman
Publication Information:  Doubleday (original). 1966 (original). 208 pages.
ISBN:  0739411438 / 978-0739411438

Book Source:  I read this book for a book discussion at my local library.

Opening Sentence:  "The nurse walked out of the room, closing the door behind her, and Mrs. Pollifax looked at the doctor and he in turn looked at her."

Favorite Quote:  "Everything is a matter of choice, and when we choose are we not gambling on the unknown and its being a wise choice? And isn't it free choice that makes individuals of us? We are eternally free to choose ourselves and our futures. I believe myself that life is quite comparable to a map like this, a constant choice of direction and route."

The one requirement for reading this book. Suspend disbelief. Is Mrs. Pollifax an unlikely spy? Yes. Are most events in this book improbable? Completely, yes. More like impossible.

Does it matter? Absolutely not.

Mrs. Virgil "Emily" Pollifax is my hero. I love the fact that she does not take to the life that seems meant for her. She is a widow. She is a senior citizen. Her children are grown and gone, with lives of their own. She is spending her life between her garden and her volunteering. She is living the life she is expected to live - a "sensible life."

A chance question from a doctor - "But isn't there something you've always longed to do, something you've never had either the time of the freedom for until now?" - sends her on a madcap adventure around the world. Turns out that Mrs. Pollifax has always wanted to be a spy. So, in this book, she becomes a spy.

It is the doctor's question and Mrs. Pollifax's response that makes Mrs. Pollifax such an endearing character. The doctor's question strikes a chord with many readers. So many times, all of us choose the sensible course of action and walk the expected path. Yet, that question lingers. What if? Well, Mrs. Pollifax answers that in a resounding way.

This whole book is about the "what if" on a grand, over-the-top adventure scale. Mrs. Pollifax goes from suburban housewife to CIA agent. She goes from her quiet home in New Jersey to Mexico and beyond.  The reader goes along with her. Her ability to maintain her poise and maneuver (I may even say "Macgyver") her way through every situation has me laughing through the book.

This book is such fun if you suspend disbelief. Imagine walking into CIA headquarters and volunteering to be a spy. Imagine memorizing code signals. Imagine scoping out a place in which you have a meeting planned. Imagine making deals with guards based on the contents of your purse. Imagine planning a daring escape with little hope of success. Now, imagine a grandmotherly figure doing all these things in her very proper way.

Mind you, the book also has its more serious side. It is a spy book. Guns, drugs, loss of life, and fear all play a role. Given the 1966 publication date, the "other side" in this spy conflict are the Communists, as the prejudices of that time conjure up. However, because Mrs. Pollifax is such an unusual spy, the story also shows the human side of each character more so than the stereotype of the table. The "villains" of the story are not all villainous. They are people, some making really bad choices and some caught in their own circumstances.

Given the 1966 publication date, this book is also unusual in its strong, independent female main character.  Mrs. Pollifax, unhappy with her housewifely role, takes on the adventurous and dangerous life of a spy. She does so very successfully, sometimes even successfully than her male counterparts. At the same time, she remains gentle and considerate in her view of people. She presents such a wonderful balance of strength and sensibility.

The fun of the book definitely supersedes the serious spy story. This book proceeds in a predictable manner, and the mystery of the missing item that begins the book  also resolves in a predictable solution. It does not matter because the predictable is still enjoyable.

This book is also the beginning of a series of books featuring Mrs. Pollifax. I am so glad to have discovered it for now I have another "to read" list when I want a quickly read, sometimes silly, fun escape from reality.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. Yes, this book is delightful if you don't require your fiction to be completely realistic. I thought The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax was a great beach read. I haven't read any of the others, so please post your thoughts if you read more in the series! My review of this book is here in case you're interested.

    1. Mia, Thank you for stopping by. I agree that Mrs. Pollifax is a great vacation read, and I have definitely added more of series to my "to read" pile. So many books, so little time! I enjoyed your review and enjoyed exploring your blog. Looking forward to sharing our reading journeys. Happy reading!