Saturday, May 22, 2010

Review: The Old Man and Me


There were two reasons Elaine Dundy’s The Old Man and Me immediately appealed to me. One, it’s an NYRB Classic, and I totally dig that publisher. Two, I totally dug the cover. And I’m not gonna lie, the cover was really the main reason.

Also, the premise didn’t sound too bad.

“Honey Flood” (and by using quotes, I am hinting that is not her real name) is a young American woman living in London in the early sixties—before the Beatles and the Stones and before London was the exciting tourist destination it is now. You initially think Honey is just a broke ex-Pat living an adventure overseas, but Dundy slowly reveals that Honey is on a mission. She’s lost her inheritance after a chain of marriages and deaths, and she’s aiming to get it back from a middle-aged English intellectual named C.D. McKee. And if his death is the only way she can get her money…well then Honey will just do what she has to do.

Let me tell you…Dundy is a witty writer. Some of the scenarios are far-fetched enough to illicit a a cry of, “She’s a loon!” but the humor instilled into the writing serves as a balance. Crazy or not, Honey still captures the curiosity of the reader with her quick wit and unorthodox behavior. She’s very much the modern woman with a lifestyle that very much contrasts the proper, high-class one of C.D. And that’s not the only contrast found in the plot…

Also infused in the narrative is the culture clash between America and Britain during a time when one enjoyed enormous post-war prosperity and the other struggled to regain power. This dynamic backdrop bumps the novel up a few notches in terms of cultural awareness and sets the scene perfectly well. Dundy did an excellent job of creating a bohemian tone in a time and place that wouldn’t typically be considered “bohemian.” I think the interesting setting was the most satisfying aspect of the novel for me. I really wanted to hop back in time and experience post-war London while reading this.

The Old Man and Me didn’t quite live up to my somewhat unreasonably high expectations (that’s the problem with judging books by the covers, right?), but it was fun and did not disappoint. It deserves a second reading. I’m anxious to read her other famous novel, The Dud Avocado—another NYRB title, which takes place in Paris in the fifties.

This review is part of the Spotlight Series tour for NYRB Classics. Today is the last day of the tour, so be sure to check the list and discover all the other wonderful titles that have already been reviewed!


Chris said…

Someone else on the tour reviewed The Dud Avocado and really liked it. I think I'm going to have to look up Dundy and get some of her books. I love that cover too!

Thanks for participating!

tolmsted said…

The Dud Avocado is one of my favorite books. I discovered it in Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway when it was still being published by Virago (I guess that was before NYRB got the rights). It's chick lit before that became a bad thing – much more light-hearted than The Old Man & Me (in my opinion).

Kari said…

Oh that's interesting that you describe The Dud Avocado as more light-hearted. I'll definitely have to get my hands on it.

Aarti said…

I saw this book in a bookstore the other day! I also ADORE the cover. It is fabulous and seems to fit quite well with the title and theme of the story. I'm sorry this was disappointing- maybe you'll like others by this author better?

Kari said…

Oh that's not the impression I intended to give at all! Though it wasn't as AMAZING as I had hoped from a cover judgment, I did enjoy it quite a lot.

Sasha said…

I would definitely read this just for that cover, haha. I know of her other book, that THE DUD AVOCADO you mentioned–now, that one, I'd definitely read just for the title. Yes, I know nothing about the latter, haha.

Lydia said…

You've totally sold me on this book! Now my TBR pile is a little higher. I really enjoy books with a historical and cultural backbone.

Thanks for a great review!
Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop