A couple of years ago I read ‘Never No More’, and I was utterly charmed by the story of Delia Scully, growing up in the care of her grandmother, in a small Irish town, in between the wars. It was wonderful to watch her growing into a lovely young woman, with a warm heart, a lively curiosity, and an impulsive nature.
‘No More Than Human’ opens as Delia arrived in Madrid, on a cold November morning, to become a governess. She had only just turned seventeen, but her grandmother was gone and it was time for Delia to make her own way in the world.
I wasn’t entirely sure that life as a governess would suit Delia, especially as she was so very young, but it was a common path for young Irishwomen of her generation, and it would be a grand adventure.
When she met her new employer on the station platform, and saw her new employer’s expression, she realised that she would have to change. The satin dress that her grandmother had bought for her, the sensible coat that was a little small but so very serviceable had seemed right when she left home, but they would not so for her new life. And it didn’t help that her hair was not behaving itself, that she had applied unfamiliar make-up in a moving train, or that she was carrying all her worldly goods in an antique dress basket…
Delia realised that she had to learn, and learn quickly. She turned herself into a plain, quiet, sensible governess.
But she was still Delia, and she did one or two things that governesses didn’t usually do. She made friends with the servants, and went into the kitchen to learn how to make Spanish food. She explored the town, and made friends with the locals. And one afternoon she went to the beach, in a read swimsuit, with a male friend.
It was entirely innocent, but she gained a reputation for being fast, she lost a job, and after one or two misadventures she realised that her life as a governess was over.
She set off for Madrid, to become a ‘professora’ – a free-lance tutor and chaperone. It was an independent lifestyle that suited Delia very well, but it wasn’t easy to establish herself when she was so young, and maybe her reputation would follow her.But Delia was determined, and soon she was setting her sights even higher. She would do what no other Irish governess had done: she would work in an office, in the kind of job that was usually reserved for young Englishwomen.
Maura Laverty catches Delia’s voice beautifully, and the tone is perfect as she looks back, with the wisdom of a few more years life experience, at her time in Spain.
She had so many ups and downs, and I lived through all of the highs and lows with her. There were so many emotions, so many experiences, so many experiences. Living and learning!
I met some wonderful people. Miss Carmondy, the older, wiser governess, who understood Delia and tried to guide her, was a wonderful friend and intriguing character. The story of Miss Wilson, who fled her home and learned to stand on her own two feet when her brother married, was heart-breaking. And La Serena, who Delia met in a Madrid boarding house, could have filled a book by herself …
And, best of all, I came to understand her love for the country, the people, the lifestyle, the cuisine. Delia and her world lived and breathed, and I loved it. She grew up, came of age, and yet she was still the same Delia.
It was so clear Maura Laverty understood – this book has many parallels with her own life – and that understanding really does illuminate this book.
I shall miss Delia now that her story has ended, but I am so very, very glad that we met.