Margery Sharp Day 2016: Cluny Brown

clunySo sorry that this is a day late, but I had a very busy day yesterday and didn’t find the time to finish up my post – better late than never, I suppose!

I was so pleased when Jane from Beyond Eden Rock announced her second annual Margery Sharp Day. I really enjoyed reading Britannia Mews last year and had good intentions to read another of Sharp’s novels before 2015 ended. However, we all know how good intentions can fall by the wayside when it comes to reading. So, I was happy to have this opportunity to try Sharp again and fortunate to find a 1944 copy of Cluny Brown at Tumbleweed Books in Pueblo, Colorado.

Cluny Brown is set in 1938 and starts off in London. We first learn about the main character, Cluny Brown, from other’s opinions and views of her. Her Uncle Arn, with whom she lives, strikes up a conversation with an older woman in Kensington Gardens and tells this woman that Cluny ‘doesn’t know her place’. And that is the crux of Cluny’s problems – she thinks she can do things that young women of her station and skills wouldn’t normally do. It perplexes her uncle and frustrates other relations and after she makes an ill-advised decision regarding an older man and his bathroom her uncle and his sister-in-law steer her into service.

She lands in Devon at Friars Carmel, the home of Sir Henry, Lady Carmel and their son Andrew. Mostly resigned to her fate she settles in as a housemaid among the very gracious family, their Polish refugee house guest, Adam Belinksi, and the other household staff. She also meets a kind if dull chemist who gives her hope for a different life.

In the end, Cluny makes a decision that is wholly unexpected yet wholly and utterly perfect. She’s known all along that she doesn’t want the life most expected for women of her status and the reader doesn’t want that for her either. For Cluny is curious and energetic, unafraid and full of natural charm. She’s meant for more than the life of a housemaid.

Like Britannia Mews, Cluny Brown is a dream. I loved all of the characters so much that I didn’t want to leave them. Sharp creates real and delightful worlds with a slightly fairy tale quality that completely envelop the reader – I was enchanted.

Now to decide – wait for next year’s Margery Sharp Day to read another of her novels or jump straight in to one now?

Margery Sharp Day: Britannia Mews

britannia mews

Today is Margery Sharp Day hosted at Fleur in Her World. I’d never really heard of Margery Sharp until reading Jane’s posts, but I am always up for trying a new author especially one who wrote in the first half of the twentieth century, which is turning out to be my favorite of all time periods, book-wise. I found this 1946 copy of Britannia Mews online and it not only looks gorgeous but was a thoroughly engrossing and entertaining tale.

I suppose this could be termed a ‘family saga’ as it relates the story of two families, the Culvers and the Hambros, from the late nineteenth century up through World War II. But it’s also the story of one small area of London, Britannia Mews, and how it changes over 70 years from a genteel, middle-class neighborhood, to an unquestionable slum then to a haven for artists and rebels. One member of the family, Adelaide Culver, receives most of the narrative attention as she is the first to break from the conventions of Victorian England and move into a more bohemian world, living nearly all her days in the Mews. Addie’s been raised in the Mews as a young child until her family moved to a more respectable house in Kensington. But when she elopes with an alcoholic artist when she is barely out of her teens and moves back into Britannia Mews she becomes a fixture of the neighborhood for the next half century.

Her rather unorthodox life is contrasted with that of her cousin, Alice, who marries a nice accountant and moves to Surbiton. Over the years Addie shuns her family and the family turn their backs on her even when she suffers some really terrible trials. As the years go by Addie maintains her distance, but the family inevitably draws back together as they age and war closes many of the gaps in their relationships.

I was constantly surprised by this novel. The characters were very unpredictable and the many unexpected turnings of the plot made this a fresh and exciting reading experience. Sharp’s writing is straight forward and fantastically descriptive and the dialogue is frank and vigorous. I always love multi-generational stories and this one is so satisfying. I turned the last page sad to leave the family behind.

Thanks to Jane for introducing me to a fantastic author whom I look forward to reading more of in the coming year and Happy Birthday to Margery Sharp.