My Search for Warren Harding by Robert Plunket

published 1984    chapter 14

[Barrie is updating her friends on the life of her mother, a former movie star, and her new boyfriend]

‘He’s nuts about my mother. He thinks she’s some big star…. The same day he met her, he was so smitten he gave her a fully-let-out chinchilla car coat.’

‘Such an awkward length,’ commented Jonica.

‘Not if you’re in a wheelchair’ Barrie went on. ‘It belonged to his dead wife. She suffered in agony for twenty years with multiple sclerosis.’

‘Eeech,’ said Jonica. ‘Who’d want that coat?’

‘My mother, that’s who. She wears it around the house to save money on heat.’ Barrie leaned a little closer to the front seat. ‘My mother’s going crazy. She doesn’t know whether to marry the guy or not. She keeps calling, asking my advice, wanting to spend time with me, I can’t get her out of my hair… Just yesterday she called and said, “Barrie, here you are twenty-five years old and you’ve never had me over to your house for dinner.”’

‘Serve fish,’ Jonica suggested. ‘She hates that.’

observations: We keep visiting this book not only because it is such an under-rated gem, but also because the clothes descriptions in the book are so great. This tasteless, but very convincing, conversation is a perfect sample. Plunket usually describes exactly what people are wearing to dramatic effect – Elliot in his purple shirt with the home-made armpit shields (don’t ask), Jonica dressed ‘like a little English boy: a vest, knickers, a little tweed cap.’

diversion: we have discussed the question of US/UK usage of ‘knickers’ before. This is an extreme case – an English girl going out to dinner in her vest and knickers is in her underwear (perhaps with suspenders too). In which case obviously she would be in the Dress Down Sunday feature of the blog.

Jonica gets most of her clothes from thrift shops, and there is a wonderful description of her searching the bins: ‘She could pick up an article, give it the once-over, check for stains and rips, look at the label for fibre content, and toss it back in two seconds flat, and then be able to relocate it again ten minutes later.’

The young people are on their way to an outing on a boat, one of the great setpieces of the book, with dreadful things going wrong, plus sharp descriptions of everyone’s clothes.

Links up with: Two earlier entries from this book. This First Lady wore a fur jacket, and Lord Peter gives Harriet a fur here.

The picture is of comedienne Phyllis Diller in a chinchilla coat.


  1. Moira - You had me at the chinchilla car coat! That bit of dialogue is scrumptious too. I can see why you think this is such a winner. Oh, and I can just picture that trip through the thrift shop wares...


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