A London Scrapbook
by Polly Grose

Beaver Pond Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59298-233-2.
Reviewed by Duffie Bart
Posted on 11/29/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir

After her second divorce, Polly Grose, the author of this enjoyable, breezy memoir, left Minneapolis where she was raised, to begin life anew in London. I am always intrigued by women who, no longer young, have the courage to do this, particularly because Miss Grose was by no means an unhappy woman. She had an interesting, thriving career, as well as parents and three grown sons with whom she had strong, positive relations. Why would she want to leave such a seemingly good life?

The answer is not surprising: a man. She had met a retired British gentleman named David on a business trip to London and was smitten. She admits that her decision to make such a drastic move was not without qualms. Did he really love her, this man who loved to flirt and had many girlfriends younger than she, this man who owned a boat and loved his sailing jaunts with friends and acquaintances? Would she learn to enjoy this pastime or would it become an ordeal for her, along with his constant rounds of "dinner parties, dances, concerts, and plays; dinners at...large homes and small flats of friends elegantly attired in black and dark suits." Would she miss her family? And perhaps most scarily, might her love for him diminish over time? Grose weighs all these questions and I finished the book believing that while her love for David was real and deep, she was equally influenced by her need for a different kind of life than was available to her in Minneapolis.

She does indeed move to London, maintaining an admirable degree of cheerful accommodation, dressing more conservatively, dining in his favorite restaurants, appreciating the meals he cooks with relish, sailing with him wherever and whenever he wishes. He, in turn, is thoughtful and loving. She continues her work as Development Director in the U.K office of the Humphrey (Hubert) Institute of Public Affairs and their evenings are spent compatibly dining out or updating his latest scrapbook. David does not approve of photo albums, seeing them as pages of disconnected photos pasted in willy-nilly, insisting that his compilations be called "scrapbooks," because they contain photos he carefully selects and that suggest a particular theme.

Did Gross ever feel the pangs of homesickness? Yes, she admits, particularly around Thanksgiving, a normal working day in England. She is not the sailor he is, though I could sense her reluctance to let the reader know this; she makes it clear how much she wants her relationship to succeed. Nevertheless, in addition to crossing the Atlantic from time to time, she calls home often, frustrated by the time differences, sometimes unable to connect, other times cut off in mid-sentence. But although she misses the easy hugs from family and friends, she never considers going back on her decision. "I had followed my heart," she reminds us, "and now I knew I could never return to the Midwest and admit 'it hadn't worked,' that I didn't have the right stuff to make a life change, that I couldn't accept British ways,...hadn't the courage to set a new course. Failure wasn't me." And so she chose to focus on her love for David, on the excitement of their London life.

Ms. Grose writes about more than just her life with David. She writes of her childhood, her previous marriages, the trajectory of her career, her mother's distinctive personality. She allows the reader know her more than just superficially. She depicts her challenging and colorful life with honesty and insight.

Ms. Grose seemed certain that she would remain in London after David's passing, and yet I wondered whether her years with him had converted her into a true Brit, whether she was really at home there, whether his friends had indeed become her friends. I had no trouble turning the pages to find out.

Polly Grose has published three books about her Quaker ancestors. She attended Smith College and graduated from Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis where she lived and raised her three sons. She is an active member of the Guthrie Theater Board of Directors. Visit her website.

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