I have been thinking for quite a while about scheduling some posts which take a single author as their focus. Rather than read an entire oeuvre and report my findings and feelings – something which I was considering for a while, and then decided against mainly due to time constraints – I have decided to choose two rather different books by my author of choice, and will then review both. This, therefore, will be my first post in the ‘One Author, Two Books series’.
Margery Sharp seemed like the obvious choice as a first author in this series. I have been drawn to Sharp for such a long time, ever since I first saw the lovely Jane at Beyond Eden Rock wax lyrical about her. I have sadly found it quite difficult to pick up the author’s books in the past, but luckily, my local library had a handful in stock in their county archives. I therefore chose her most famous children’s book, The Rescuers, and a novel for adults entitled The Flowering Thorn.
The Rescuers (1959)
Like so many children, I adored the animated film version of The Rescuers, and watched it over and over again. When I began to explain the story to my boyfriend, who had never seen it, he thought it sounded a little bizarre for an adult to read. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and found The Rescuers just as charming as I expected to. What I was not expecting, however, was the wonderful humour which suffuses the piece, and quite the level of imagination which has been woven into it.
The Rescuers, which was first published in 1959, is the first book in a series. The primary storyline of this initial volume is that a series of innovative mice, all of whom are members of the Prisoners’ Aid Society, decide to rescue a Norwegian poet who has been imprisoned. They undertake ‘a mission to recruit the bravest mouse they can find – someone who can outwit the fearsome jailer and avoid the jaws of his cruel cat.’ The Black Castle, in which the man finds himself, is windowless and imposing.
The Rescuers is filled with any amount of darling details; brave mice receive the ‘Jean Fromage’ award, and the chairwoman of the Prisoners’ Aid Society is ‘descended in a direct line from the senior of the Three Blind Mice’. She recruits a brave mouse named Bernard to find Miss Bianca, who belongs to the son of an Ambassador, to head the mission; it is thought that this revered mouse ‘lived in a porcelain pagoda: that she fed exclusively on cream cheese from a silver bonbon dish: that she wore a silver chain round her neck, and on Sundays a gold one.’
I am surprised that I did not read this as a child, drawn as I was to books featuring adventurous talking animals, from The Chronicles of Narnia (which, incidentally, has its own fearsome mouse, named Reepicheep) and The Incredible Journey, to several series of anthropomorphic creatures by the likes of Lucy Daniels and Dick King-Smith. I would have been absolutely enchanted by The Rescuers as a child, and must admit that I rather am as an adult.
The Flowering Thorn (1948)
I did not know a great deal about The Flowering Thorn before placing my library reservation, and I chose deliberately not to look into it too much before beginning. The novel, written very much for adults, centres upon a ‘Jazz Age socialite’, a woman in her late twenties named Lesley Frewen. At a point in her life where she is feeling ‘disillusioned and unhappy’, Lesley takes the rash decision to look after an orphaned four-year-old boy named Patrick.
Lesley soon realises that taking Patrick on clashes horribly with her life in London, from her flat in an exclusive block which does not accept children – ‘The management, indeed, worked, and worked successfully, on the basic assumption that their tenants as a class were not intended by nature to boil eggs, wash socks, sew on buttons, walk up or down stairs, have children, keep dogs, or put up friends on the sofa’ – to her old friends who do not even try to understand her choice. Finding that even ‘the flattering attention of the opposite sex’ must be relinquished, Lesley decides to move to a cottage in rural Buckinghamshire, for the very specific period of five years. As she settles into her new home, which is initially described as ‘hideously ugly and hopelessly inconvenient’, there is an enormous shift, from her selfish and unlikeable character to someone far more accommodating, who has given herself the chance to feel free.
The Flowering Thorn begins in 1929, and follows Lesley from her fateful decision – she ‘had little doubt that the Problem, as raw material, was of exceptional quality’ – all the way through to her becoming settled in her countryside home after a number of years have passed. In this time, Lesley grows from an highly irresponsible figure, to a far more acceptable one, treasured by those around her. Discovery is at the heart of this novel. Sharp writes: ‘In fact, it might almost be said that she was never bored at all. There was a constant intercourse, a continual deepening of acquaintance; instead of knowing a hundred people by sight she would soon know half a dozen by heart. An eventual return to Town was still, so to speak, the vanishing point of her perspective; but the lines were four years long, and in the meantime, for her consolation, there was this new and startling discovery: that the country is populated by really quite interesting persons.’
Throughout, I loved Sharp’s attention to detail; her thorough descriptions throughout the novel make The Flowering Thorn feel truly tangible, and quite atmospheric at times too. Sharp is highly aware of her protagonist, and her changing feelings, and has a real eye for building realistic characters. I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and I hope to spend far more time with the rest of Sharp’s oeuvre in future. She is a long overlooked, highly considerate, and really quite underappreciated author, and I would urge you to pick at least one of her books up – and soon.
If you have any recommendations for other authors I could include in future, and books which I could select, please do let me know.