The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer


The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer

I’ve never been the biggest fan of a short story. I always expect it to be a minefield of action but what I tend to find is not a lot really happens and it’s a big load of nothing. Although The Pumpkin Eater came highly recommend on one of those ‘100 books to read before you die’ lists I was slightly sceptical that again, not much was going to happen.I am happy to report The Pumpkin Eater does go against the grain.

Mrs Armitage is onto her fourth marriage. She marries Jake against her father’s wishes – he doesn’t earn enough and against his father’s – he’s too weak to be a husband. She takes with her an army of children into the marriage. We are never told how many she has but enough to have had some taken away from her. Her friend Philpot comes stay and Mrs Armitage is convinced she has had relations with her husband , although Jake does deny it. As Jake’s career has a playwright takes off – he works long hours and soon becomes the next big thing on everyone’s lips – Mrs Armitage sinks into a depression. No longer is she the motherly figure in the house or spends her days cleaning and cooking, as money is no longer an object they have staff to do this. She feels she has no purpose something Jake doesn’t seem to understand. She speaks to her doctor who decides to give her some pills for ‘her little weeps’.


Life isn’t kind to Mrs Armitage as she learns her father has died and discovers she is pregnant. Her mother, horrified that her daughter is pregnant for the umpteenth time voices her disgust. Jake also appalled, requests that she have a termination which she undergoes. Everyone around her moans at her for wanting more children but if she has no job, nothing to do in the house and an emptiness inside her is it any wonder she wants to find some sort of purpose in life through wanting to bear children.

She soon discovers that Jake has been having a longstanding affair with their mutual friend Beth and soon the truth about his dalliance with Philpot comes tumbling out.


The Pumpkin Eater is a dark take on the trappings of a domestic life where men trivialise the need for a woman’s sense of being and purpose – to highlight this Mortimer doesn’t even let us know the narrator’s first name. To men women just need to be there they do not need to do or have a sense of entitlement.

I think when reading shorter novels I need to accept that the plot isn’t going to be full of action and perhaps is more a psychological journey. The Pumpkin Eater has stood the test of time for over fifty years and will surely do so for another fifty.


Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis


Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis

Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis shouldn’t be a comfort read but for me it really is. When I first read the book I was 17 and obsessed with all thing rock star from the lifestyle, to the music to the iconic frontmen. Scar Tissue opened my eyes things you wouldn’t even entertain the idea of – losing your virginity to your dad’s girlfriend, taking cocaine at the age of 14 and getting high for days on end – all of these part of Kiedis’s adventures.


The second time I read the book was another chapter in my life where I was at uni and embarking on my first lot of work experience. Again I went to this novel as a source of comfort in my bid to navigate my way around London alone for the first time.


So this is now the third time I have read the book and just like watching a film over and over, each time I’ve devoured it and found out things I missed before.


From the off Kiedis doesn’t have your stereotypical childhood, his mother and father split when he was a toddler and due to his father’s strict upbringing, ‘Blackie’ goes off the rails. So when Kiedis decides he wants to live with him in LA much to his mother’s sadness he is opened up to a world of clubs, girls and drugs.


His teenage years are a whirlwind of drug binges and sleeping on people’s sofas. His only constants are his friends Hillel and Flea. An artistic soul, he ends up introducing Hillel and Flea’s band which leads to him becoming a singer and eventually they form the Red Hot Chili Peppers.


With their first album, they are just happy to make to a physical piece of music but they have run ins with their producer who tries to make them more marketable. After the third album Kiedis’s life is turned upside down when Hillel overdoses from a drug binge. Even this doesn’t give Kiedis his wake up call to stop taking heroin, eventually he does and stays sober for the next five years.


With the loss of Hillel they audition for a new guitarist and find John Frusciante, a musical genius. They create the iconic Blood Sugar Sex Magik album which propels the band to worldwide status. They have more money than they’ve ever known and Kiedis travels Asia, buys a house in New Zealand and makes his way through a succession of women.


But with all this money comes the temptation to buy drugs again. He starts and stops again over a period of several years, each time going to an exotic location to go cold turkey and kick his habitat. The madness causes John to leave and then return once Flea says he wants to leave the band unless he comes back. John is effectively the glue that holds the band together and the book finishes with Kiedis clean once he realises he wants to be in control of his actions and the finishing of the By the Way album.


The band’s journey is that of your typical rock band – full of debauchery and excess. Perhaps it’s not the best written autobiography but it’s certainly one hell of a ride. For all of Kiedis’s cockiness and excess you can’t help but fall in love with him.


You would think after the third time of reading this I would be sick of it and not want to touch it again but I know that I will have the itch to read it again in a few years time. Most people revert back to reading the classics over and over – Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights. Nope my go to is the story of an eccentric, drug fuelled rock star who makes some pretty great music.