Martha in Paris by Margery Sharp

When you’re in a big crowd, do you ever look around and find it extraordinary that there are so many people, seemingly quite ordinary, all with their own complete life-story, relationships and world-view, and all quite different. I do. Often!

Those are the people Margery Sharp write about. With warmth, with empathy, and with wit. And it makes her books so very special.

Martha is one of those people.

She made her debut in The Eye of Love – sadly the only one of Margery Sharp’s books in print – and when I read it I knew that I had to track down the out of print sequels.

Martha is bright, but maybe a little dull, and has little in common with her contemporaries. But she has an extraordinary talent for art, and she has a sponsor who wants to nurture that talent.

He wants to send her to art school in Paris. The history and romance of Paris aren’t a big draw for Martha, and she is concerned about the loss of her home comforts. But art school is a draw and none of the alternatives open to her are too appealing.

And so Martha is off to Paris. Her landlady is bemused – Martha is quite unlike the other English girls who have lodged with her. No boyfriends, no late nights, no noise. Just a hearty appetite – well Martha does like her food and her home comforts.

But don’t think there isn’t romance – of course there is. But Martha is not seduced by a Frenchman – she falls into a relationship with an English bank clerk while lunching on a park bench. He takes her home to meet his mother and a relationship develops.

Not so much a great love affair as a comfortable arrangement. Eric is pleased to have a girlfriend to present to his mother. She is pleased that he has finally brought somebody home. And Martha? Well she’s happy to have a good meal and access to lovely English bathroom facilities. Sad, but true.

I’m struggling to make this sound appealing, but please believe me when I say that it is. There is such honesty and clarity. And the story is told beautifully with all of the warmth and wit I expected from Margery Sharp, and with lovely observations and some wonderful details.

But of course that isn’t all. There is a sharp twist. Eric’s mother is called away, Eric and Martha find themselves together in bed and, of course, there are consequences. How Martha deals with those consequences is unexpected, startling, but at the same time totally in keeping with her character.

Some authors couldn’t pull off a turn like that, but Margery Sharp could. Capturing the magic of real life.

And now I must track down the third volume of Martha’s story – I really must find out what happens next!

19 responses

  1. I hope that you’re able to track down #3. You did make it sound appealing and I applaud you on your quest to read books that haven’t been off of shelves in years, yet are great reads just waiting to be discovered!

  2. Hi Fleur!
    You’ve sold me on this book. Just had a look at Amazon for ‘The Eye of Love’ and I adore the cover! It would be great if they reprinted the others.
    I also learned that Sharp wrote The Rescuers series (I’ve seen the Disney cartoon) so that was a sweet surprise. Thanks, will add this author to my list.

    • Christina, The Eye of Love is wonderful. I’m glad Virago published it so I could discover Margery Sharp, but I’m sorry that they haven’t published more of her books. Hopefully somebody will before too much longer. There was a mention on the Faber Finds website a while ago, so I have hope!

  3. What an endearing description of ‘Martha in Paris’. I have been a Margery Sharp enthusiast for many years (hence the website, and I am always happy to find someone else who appreciates her work. I am currently re-reading all of her books in order, and I look forward to a fresh go at the Martha series. Of interest is the fact that Margery Sharp, when asked in 1963 what books satisfied her most, of all she had written–she answered ‘the three books with Martha in them.’ She also alluded to the fact that there were autobiographical elements in Martha.
    Thank you again for your lovely comments. May I provide a link to your site? Rebecca

    • Rebecca, it didn’t occur to me to look for a Margery Sharp site and I am so glad that such a fine tribute to a wonderful author exists, and that you found me. There is definitely something about Martha so I’m not entirely surprised about the elements of autobiography. And yes, of course you can link!

  4. Oh my goodness! The Eye of Love is one of my favorite Sharps and I had no idea it was reprinted! And it’s apparently the only one of my favorites that I don’t already own. Pardon me while I dash to a bookstore.

  5. Pingback: Library Loot « Fleur Fisher reads

  6. I have been a Margery Sharp fan for 40 years. I fortunately inherited a couple of books and have been collecting them since. If you haven’t yet read Cluny Brown(which was made into a movie with Jennifer Jones), Brittania Mews, The Gypsy in the Parlor, The Nutmeg Tree, Something Light (favorites of mine), you are so fortunate because the joy is ahead of you! Hunt them down at once!

  7. Pingback: Martha, Eric and George by Margery Sharp « Fleur Fisher reads

  8. Pingback: Sound the Tin Trumpets! Margery Sharp Reissues are Coming! | Beyond Eden Rock

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