Stuff and Nonsense: The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer


The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer

At the point where I learned what I was fighting, loving, I knew that I was bound, in the end, to lose. I dispensed with the formalities of tenderness, pity, the ceremonial flattery that should go before disciplined massacre. I fought, I suppose, like a woman, uttering distracting cries, making false moves, hitting below the belt. I was incapable of giving up, and unable to escape. But I was no match for Jake. He went on loving me even after I was beaten, propped up with my wound wide open, emptied of memory or hope.

Mrs. Armitage (we never learn her personal name) has lots of kids, but she isn't really mother to any of them as the lifestyle she maintains with her current husband (number four, which is a bit of a big deal in 1950s England) means there are layers of carers between herself and the children. I get the feeling she resents those layers, but doesn't see away through them. This is the life her husband has built and it's supposed to be the life she wants. Maybe, having another baby would make things better? She does enjoy being pregnant. But does she enjoy being pregnant because it is the only time she feels in control of herself and at the center of things?

Her husband doesn't want more children and finally cajoles her into an abortion and sterilization. Mrs Armitage goes along with his desires, because she loves him and wants to keep her marriage together when it is obvious another pregnancy will wreck it. Of course, Mrs Armitage is understandably destroyed when she discovers her husband has been having an affair with a young married actress he works with and has gotten her pregnant. Is it any surprise she ends up hiding out from her husband and children in their glass tower of a country house?

While I couldn't stop reading The Pumpkin Eater, I can't say I enjoyed it overmuch. There are darkly funny bits and some of the language is quite lyrical, but it's still a brutal story with sort of drab inevitability to it. Long before the children laid siege to the tower, I knew Mrs. Armitage would be conquered and reclaimed and that life would go on as before for her, sans fecundity.

The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer (NYRB Classics, 2011)


  1. I read this one a few months back and liked it, but didn't love it. Think I rated it a 4/5.

  2. This sounds like a kind of bleak, sad story and Mrs. Armitage is its victim. I do like dark humor, though and the story sounds intriguing. I enjoyed your review, it's piqued my interest in the book which I'm going to look up now!


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