Margery Sharp's birthdayWell, I’m slightly late to the party, and I sincerely apologise for that – I did check with the lovely Jane at Beyond Eden Rock if it was OK to post late, as the book only arrived on Friday, and she said that it was.

Jane has been running a Margery Sharp Day read for the last couple of years on the author’s birthday. This year, it’s  Margery Sharp’s 111th Birthday Read and if you follow the link, you can read all about it. Margery is another of those sadly out of print mid-century woman novelists. I hadn’t read her before, but having done so, I think she’s very deserving of being brought back into print, and hopefully this celebration will help one of the lovely reprint publishers like Virago, Persephone or Bello to consider putting her on their books.

Margery Sharp – “The Foolish Gentlewoman”

(22 January 2016)

An absolutely charming novel – Sharp falls firmly into the mid-century middlebrow nexus, sitting comfortably with your Dorothy Whipple, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym or Mary Hocking. Sharp (ha) and observant about families, education (or the lack of it), class and ageing, she’s maybe a little warmer than Taylor and Pym, although just as incisive and with similar flamboyant, flawed and hilarious characters.

In this lovely novel, middle-aged, fussy loner Simon is settling down to stay with his widowed sister-in-law, Isabel, while his own house is repaired. It’s bad enough that they have to share their living space with Isabel’s nephew Humphrey and her companion Jacqueline Brown (who want some time to themselves for their quiet love affair), but then the truly dreadful Tilly Cuff (who would be at home in an Elizabeth Taylor or a Beryl Cook painting) is invited to stay when Isabel feels she owes her some kind of reparation. Tilly starts to cause malicious chaos, and Simon is drawn closer to the lower-class Pooles, the caretaker and her daughter, with their perms and film magazines and mild gambling habit (they could be drawn from a Jane Gardam novel, actually), who see him as their protector.

The book is pretty class-conscious, but it’s kind at heart. There are also some interesting points that I don’t recall finding often about the bliss of just having a REST after having been through WW2. The writing is pointed and slightly acerbic, but funny and readable. And there’s no easy solution to the incursion of chaos into the midst of quiet family life, and no easily tied up ends – which I like.

The reason for the comparisons with other writers is not to subsume Sharp within them but to provide some points of linkage with other writers you might be more familiar with. If you like any of these writers, you will like Margery Sharp. I’ll certainly be looking out for more of her delicious novels. Thank you, Jane, for introducing me to a new favourite!

This book will suit … anyone who loves residing in the mid-century middlebrow world of houses that are slightly larger than they need to be and people who don’t have quite enough to do.