A womb isn’t all that important. It’s only the seat of life, something that drags the moon down from the sky like a kite and draws the sea in and out, in and out, the world’s breathing. At school the word ‘womb’ used to make them snigger. Women aren’t important.The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer
I‘ve been doing a lot of rereading these past few weeks. Looking back at books I’ve loved & trying to see them afresh, wondering always how they cast their magic. But one new-to-me book I have read is Penelope Mortimer’s slim 1962 novel, The Pumpkin Eater, now reissued as both a NYRB Classic and a Penguin Classic.
It’s the semi-autobiographical story of a woman married to her fourth husband, an up and coming screenwriter (based on the author’s husband, John Mortimer) and the consequences of his infidelities and her focus on their home and many, many children. The writing is so fresh — funny and moving by turns — with wonderful dialogue and a great deal of space between what is said and what is left for the reader to infer. She’s also wonderful at getting children onto the page in all their living, breathing, infuriatingness (Penelope Mortimer herself was a mother of six), reminding me of the brilliance of Penelope Fitzgerald’s young characters.
Mortimer mangages her brilliant and visceral autopsy of a modern marriage in a little under 160 pages, and it made me incredibly sad to think how little remembered she is compared to her former husband. I’ll definitely be seeking out her other novels, but I think they’ll have a hard job to displace this one from my heart.
You can read more about Penelope Mortimer and her novels here.