Monday, November 28, 2005

Dorothy Gilman: The unexpected Mrs Pollifax

After reading Locked Rooms I read this book (TUMP), the first in the Mrs Pollifax series. I had previously read Mrs Pollifax Pursued (MPP), which is the eleventh book in the series, and now I decided to try the first one.

These books are by no means great, but quite enjoyable. TUMP is quite fascinating, steeped as it is in cold war terminology and ideas. Mrs Pollifax is widowed and slightly depressed. She gets the idea that offering her services as a spy would be a good idea, as she's not afraid of dying and might as well serve her country. Surprisingly enough she arrives at the CIA headquartes at an opportune moment and is chosen for a simple courier mission to Mexico. Naturally it goes wrong and Mrs Pollifax is abducted. Etc.

It is quite ludicrous to read all the praise the CIA gets for it's foreign policy in this novel, knowing as we do all about the terrible loss of human life that has followed the CIA's support of one regime over another (Pinochet anyone? Saddam?). As Mrs P tries to flee to Yugoslavia she thinks "Bless Tito and foreign aid". But I can't hate this novel, superficial though it may be. It hints at real pain and suffering in a way that makes me wonder why Gilman decided to keep it so bland and cheery. When Mrs Pollifax is abducted she is at first afraid to be killed, then she realises that she is most afraid to lose her dignity. If that isn't an excellent summing up of what torture does to a person, I don't know what is. She is then placed in a cell with a younger man, with no toilet facilities apart from night chambers under the beds. This is such a loss of privacy and dignity as she fears, but not much more is made of it. It's all very unsatisfactory.

At least there are no made-up countries, unlike in MPP, which features that obligatory small African nation so popular in novels. I don't know why they can't just use a real one.

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