There are so many books in the world, the accumulation of years and years of authors writing away, and that is lovely for devoted readers, but it can also be a little worrying. How do we know that we have found the very best books for us? How do we know that the very best book of all is a book we haven’t found yet?
I worry much less about those things since I discovered the work of a wonderful author named Margery Sharp, and that is why I am so thrilled that Open Road Media has taken the first step to introduce her to a wider audience, many of whom I know will fall in love with her, by issuing ten of her works as e-books.
(You’ll find a rather more concise version of this story on their webside, together with a wealth of interesting articles and any number of desirable books)
I was introduced to Margery Sharp’s writing, quite a few years ago now, by the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group, the loveliest group of bookish folk you could every hope to meet. Without them there wouldn’t have been a Beyond Eden Rock, and my reading wouldn’t be anything like as rich and diverse as it is now.
I loved what I read about Margery Sharp, and so I ordered the one book that Virago reissued. It won me over, and as I read more of her work she rose in my estimation and my affections until she reached the highest of heights.
That first book was ‘The Eye of Love’. It tells the story of a middle-aged couple: Miss Diver, who wears a comb in hair and shawl around her shoulders because believes she has the looks and the character of a Spanish Rose type, and Mr Gibson, a stout gentleman who has risen to senior position in retail.
In the hands of some authors such characters would appear silly or foolish; but not in Margery Sharp’s hands. She writes about them with great wit, with great affection, and with understanding of their foibles and their love. She made me love them, and she made them utterly real. A flamboyantly dressed lady I see in town might be a Miss Diver; a quite unremarkable man I see dressed for business might be a Mr Gibson. I love that!
And wrapped around their story is the beginning of the story of Martha, Miss Diver’s orphaned niece-by marriage. Martha is a stolid and self-possessed little girl, a true individual who is sweetly oblivious to the cares and concerns of others and sails through life’s storms, set on the course that she knows is right for her.
Margery Sharp spins a story that is both lovely and clever in this book. I loaned my copy to my mother because I though she would like it to, and she liked it so much that she pressed my copy on to some of her friends. I loved that she was so evangelical about books that she loved; but one of the consequences of that was that a few of my books – this one included – never came home again. But I’m re-reading it now; an e-book this time around
I mas so taken with that book that I went looking for more of Margery Sharp’s work. I found that all of her other books were out of print, and that many of them were scarce and expensive, but luckily a wise librarian had tucked many of her books away in my library’s reserve stock.
That allowed me to follow Martha through two wonderful sequels – ‘Martha in Paris’ and ‘Martha, Eric and George’. I won’t say too much about them, because I can’t without giving too much away about the early part of the trilogy, but I will say that I loved them.
Martha was honest, she was independent, she followed her instincts rather that social conventions, and she was most definitely a woman taking charge of her own destiny. How can you not cheer that?!
That was something that she had in common with many of Margery Sharp’s heroines. They’re a wonderfully diverse band of women, I’m so pleased that many of them have been sent out into the world again, and you really should meet them all.
‘The Nutmeg Tree’ introduced me to fun-loving Julia Packett, who gave up her daughter to her wealthy in-laws, but who came running when her daughter needed her. She did her level best to find happy endings for all, without ever losing sight of who she was and what she wanted in life. It was great fun, with just enough serious underpinnings to stop it becoming frivolous.
‘The Flowering Thorn’ introduced me to Lesley Frewen, a girl-about-town who – to prove a point – offered to adopt an unwanted infant , saving him from being sent to an orphanage. The story of how she changed her life and of what happened next was bright and witty, and it was thoughtful and emotional too.
‘Cluny Brown’ was another wonderful heroine. She loved life, she didn’t know quite what she wanted from it; but she was curious to explore lots of possibilities When she was sent into service at a country house, by a family who didn’t know quite what to do with her, she carried right on, and the results were marvelously entertaining.
Along the way I discovered that there were a great many people reading and loving Margery Sharp’s books. I can’t mention them all – I don’t know them all – but I must mention The Margery Sharp Blog is such a lovely, lovely celebration of all things Margery.
Margery Sharp’s writing is wonderfully readable, and is so distinctive, I’m quite sure that I could recognise her writing even if her name wasn’t on it now. She is such a good story-teller, she is always acute but almost never unkind, and everything that I have read – by her and about her – makes me think that if we had met I would have liked her enormously.
There are many more books than the ones I’ve mentioned. Some I don’t want to tease you with – at least not today – because they haven’t been reissued. Others I am saving because I want the joy of discovering new books to last as long as it possibly can.
I will write about those books, and continue to celebrate Margery Sharp’s legacy, because I want the ten books out in the world to be a beginning and not an ending. I know that some of the other books are just as good and I want them to be back in print too, and I want paper copies as well as e-books.
I hope that these first reissues will be successful and make that happen.
There is one more book that I must tell you about, because it’s the book that exceeded every expectation I had, the book that really touched my heart, and the book that gave me the push to campaign for Margery Sharp’s books to be brought back into print.
‘The Innocents’ tells the story of a middle-aged spinster who finds herself looking after a friend’s young child for longer that she expected when war breaks out, and the story of what happens when the mother returns and isn’t entirely happy with the way her child is being raised. The twist in the tale is that the child had what we would call ‘learning difficulties’; the lady who cared for her described her as ‘an innocent’.
I won’t write about it at length, because I wrote about it quite recently, for this year’s Margery Sharp Day.
I’ll just say that it may be Margery Sharp’s simplest and quietest book, and that it is elevated by a depth of understanding and real emotional honesty. I only wish that my mother was able to read it because she had a son – and I had a brother – who was ‘an innocent’.
I couldn’t be happier that this book – and nine others – have been sent out into the world again.
Welcome back, Margery Sharp!