Ferdinand is a widower rattling around a large farm house, missing the visits of his grandchildren. Their mother is seeking to lessen his involvement in their lives as she thinks he swears too much: they of course delight in the forbidden expletives.
Ferdinand saves his neighbor, Marceline’s, life from gas poisoning, having been led to her still body by her dog. He realizes that they have been existing in one room under a very leaky roof and this asserts its own logic, as he has copious drip-free space to spare. Ferdinand welcomes her, the dog and the rest of her menagerie, including Cornelius the lock picking donkey, to his farm.
Marceline is but the first of the series of human waifs and strays that Ferdinand invites to live in the farmhouse, bringing it and each other back to life. A recent widower is followed by aged senile sisters, before members of a more youthful generation join the community. As the lonely farmhouse becomes a home again, the grandsons are increasingly frequent visitors, adding fresh connections to these hitherto fairly isolated peoples’ lives. The eponymous Paulette is the surprising final new joiner of the group. Each was, in their way, impoverished; but in the farmhouse, and in each other, they find useful roles for themselves in making life better for each other with the gifts and skills they can offer.
At its best, Barbara Constantine gives the situations in her created world a wonderfully kaleidoscopic vividness through rapid juxtaposition of different character viewpoints (and the animals, as part of this community, have their tales told too). The opening chapters have a wonderful life of comic misunderstanding, and a quirky charm somewhat reminiscent of the film Amelie. This falls away rather as the book progresses and becomes a narrative that also doesn’t provide deeper insights into the characters.
Any Cop?: And Then Came Paulette is enjoyable, but didn’t quite sustain its opening promise.