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!