My rating: 9/10
From the front flyleaf:
In this “portrait of the artist as a young woman,” Margery Sharp uses all her individual observation – humorous, tender and astringent – to recount a climacteric twelve months in the life of eighteen-year-old Martha, who was sent to Paris to learn to paint, and learned a great deal else besides.
Readers who first met Martha as the stolid, matter-of-fact and altogether memorable child in The Eye of Love and wondered what would happen to this truly independent spirit when confronted with Life now have an opportunity to find out.
Oblivious to the glamour and temptation of Paris, Martha’s single-minded pursuit of creativity and her matronly appearance seem to protect her from her Aunt Dolores’s delicately-put fear that “Martha might come to some harm…” Once called the Young Pachyderm by a friend back home near Paddington Station, perhaps because he glimpsed something tough-carapaced about her even then, Martha is now Mother Bunch to her fellow art students. Apparently the threat of Paris is to be lost ton her as she at once sets herself up in a doggedly methodical routine of working, eating and sleeping.
But Paris has an outrageous joke to play on Martha. It all begins with her somewhat unconventional adoration of deep, hot baths, after which she always looked her most attractive, or as the French say, “appetizing.” Nice hot baths involve Martha in an experience with a young Englishman (City of London Bank, Paris Branch) which would challenge the resources of a far more sophisticated girl than Martha. How she triumphantly copes with the resulting situation is the them of this engaging novel.
That about sums it up. I greatly enjoyed this next installment in Martha’s life-journey. Margery Sharp has settled into her story nicely; she champions Martha’s artistic cause and incidentally tramples over the gender-based lines of common behaviours; Martha is a true feminist, or perhaps we should say humanist; she has zero tolerance for the conventions which govern the behaviours of more conventional beings. Such as, for instance, her would-be lover Eric, and his doting mother. Their persistence in viewing Martha through their own rose-tinted spectacles of wishful thinking as to her personality and motivations lead to an ironically comedic situation, which Martha single-handedly sorts out in a most pragmatic way.
Martha is a deeply unusual heroine; regardless of her lack of sentiment and socially acceptable behaviour I found myself fully on her side in her Parisian adventures, and have no doubt that her ambitions will be fulfilled.
Highly recommended. If you can at all manage to find these three titles, read them in order. This is the middle book of a trilogy. The preceding book is The Eye of Love; the following book is Martha, Eric and George.
The Eye of Love is presently in print, in softcover from Virago Press. Martha in Paris and Martha, Eric and George are readily available and generally reasonably priced through ABE.