My rating: 10/10.
She does it again.
Just when I thought I knew everything there was to know about Margery Sharp’s eclectic style, she pulls something new out of the hat. This is an absolutely crisp, clean and elegantly written novel, by a master of her craft, with some attention-catching stylings. I suspect the author was enjoying herself quietly and deeply while working this out, based as it is on her memories of her childhood years in Malta.
Nice. Very, very, nice.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a few weeks now, waiting for an inspired moment to sit down and really delve into this book, but things are picking up speed in my real life and computer time for blogging is getting a bit pinched, so it’s looking like now or never. A quickie review it will have to be.
Below the low stone wall, beyond the rocks, sun-pennies danced on the blue Mediterranean; so dazzlingly, they could be looked at only between dropped lashes. (In 1913, the pre-sunglass era, light was permitted to assault the naked eye.) Opposite, across the road called Victoria Avenue, great bolts of sunlight struck at the white stone buildings and richocheted off the windows. A puff of dust was a puff of gold-dust, an orange spilled from a basket like a wind-fall from the Hesperides…
Young Cathy Pennon, middle child of three growing up on an outpost of the grand British Empire, on the small island “next-door” to Malta, glories in the sun and basks in its rays. She is soon to leave the scene of her young years, as the growing winds of the Great War unsettle her civilian parents enough to urge a return to safer England. Cathy is soon to discover that she never will be truly warm again; the rainy isle of “Home” being resistant in its mists to the heat of that lost-and-mourned Mediterranean sun.
We follow Cathy, and to a lesser degree, her older sister Muriel and younger brother Alan, as they grow up in England, move into their adult years, and go their separate ways. Muriel is to find a comfortable niche in married domesticity; Alan settles into a happy bachelor existence while dedicating himself to the banking business – he is, ultimately tragically, of just the age to be destined to fight in the next great war – and Cathy drifts into a loosely-defined position as companion-lady’s maid to the aristocratic Lady Jean.
The book is a delicious moving picture of the years of and between the wars; our author touches delicately but succinctly on the many personalities and types of those years of tremendous flux, when the world is continually shaking itself and forming itself again as its inhabitants struggle, with various degrees of success, to come to grips with every new normal.
Cathy survives, though not without some scars, and we leave her at the end of the Second Great War poised for what looks to be the greatest change yet in her four decades of life, contemplating with wild surmise and growing joy the possibility of a return to the sun.
What a very good book this is. Margery Sharp is in absolutely fine form, having created a crisp, clean narrative with beautiful styling and more than a little cynically black ink in her accomplished pen. Cathy is a most human protagonist; full of flaws and not at all likeable a certain amount of the time; she tends to stand back a step from those around her, never fully entering in to the lives of those she bumps up against. A girl and then a woman of unexpected responses, and a few hidden talents…