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Bad news: When we meet Madame Mallory she's pretty much a tyrant with a crazy streak, a woman who both has an iron grip on her life, but if pushed, totally falls apart.
Good News: She makes a total transformation throughout the story. Her icy exterior melts, and all in all, she proves to be a major influence in Hassan's life (and as such our book), since she's solely responsible for our main man's career and success. Let's take a closer look.
Mallory's an older woman, and pretty stiff. And we can totally say the same about her personality. This lady is dry—and not in, like, a dry wit kind of way. No, we mean more like a dried red pepper (to bust out a food analogy ourselves). In other words, you don't really want much of her in one sitting, and she can totally make you cry.
When we're first introduced to Mallory, it's through a creepy window on the top floor of Le Saule Pleureur. If you didn't get the creeps when you read about her pale face looking out at Hassan we don't know what to say. You may have even thought it was an actual ghost.
Next we get a history of her background. Basically she was bred in the best of French taste and tradition and has used her hard work to make quite a name for herself with her little inn. Intimidation is the name of her game, so as soon as the Hajis get to Lumière, she is there as the snobby French counterpart to their loud curry-eating ways. Nice to meet you, neighbor (not).
She's managed to make a name for herself but hasn't left her inn for many years. Can you say career suicide? At this point she's kind of collecting dust. Plus she only has two Michelin stars, and though she waits for her third—which would make her the best of the best—it hasn't come.
Unfortunately for Hassan and his family, their arrival coincides with Mallory's birthday, an event which prompts her to realize that she will never be more successful than she is at the time. It's one of those all down hill from here moments, but since she's not the type to accept defeat gracefully, instead she fights it… and Hassan's dad. Denial is never the best idea, and in Mallory's case, it makes her absolutely crazy.
So Mallory goes through this phase where her main hobby is basically messing with Hassan's family. The worst part for her, though—even worse than having competition move in across the street—is that she discovers that Hassan has a natural gift when it comes to cooking, and what's more, he's way more talented than she'll ever be. It's a doozy of a realization, and as you might've guessed, she responds with rage until her manager, Henri Leblanc, tells her that she's got to cool it.
And by tells her that she's got to cool it we totally mean kicks her out of his car onto the side of the road in the middle of winter. Good man, Leblanc.
Leblanc's move might seem a little, well, cold (pun totally intended), but it gets the job done, and after spending a few hours in a freezing cold chapel off the side of a mountain, Mallory turns into a different woman. Somehow she finally realizes that her life has gone wrong and that she hasn't done the right thing in years.
When she returns from her pilgrimage, Mallory resumes her dignity and realizes that she has a job to do: help Hassan reach his potential.
The new Mallory is much less nasty, but just as intense. Hassan has a sneaking suspicion that she continues to help his career long after he leaves her inn, which she denies. Naturally. She's not quick to pay a compliment or strike up a conversation about anything, so of course she isn't going to admit that she's been playing guardian angel to his career all these years.
Lest you think Mallory's change of heart only has to do with Hassan, though, think again. A prime example of just how completely she's changed is when she takes pity on her chef de cuisine when he gets super jealous of Hassan:
But when in that moment she realized what she had done, that as a result of her insensitivity poor Jean-Pierre was tortured with jealousy, her emotions were visibly stirred.
You could see it in her face. For if there was one human condition that Madame Mallory understood, it was jealousy, the intense pain of realizing that there are those in the world who simply are greater than we are, surpassing us, in some profound way, in our accomplishments. (12.191-192)
Yup—Mallory can feel Jean-Pierre's pain. Looks like somebody's no longer completely consumed with herself.
After Hassan moves to Paris, we don't hear a whole lot about Mallory. But there's a moment toward the end of the book where Hassan remembers having tea with her, and this moment reveals just how human Mallory really is. She says:
"I am not very good with words, but I would like to tell you that somewhere in life I lost my way, and I believe you were sent to me, perhaps by my beloved father, so that I could be restored to the world. And I thank you for this. You have made me understand that good taste is not the birthright of snobs, but a gift from God sometimes found in the most unlikely of places and in the unlikeliest of people." (19.35)
Wow. If you'll excuse us for a moment, we need to grab a tissue. This moment exemplifies the change that happened way back when in Lumière—you know, in the freezing church—making it crystal clear that beneath a cold exterior, Mallory is actually a warm human being with a conscience and even a heart. Go figure.