Monday, February 23, 2015

The Gipsy in the Parlour by Margery Sharp

I guess I'm on a Margery Sharp roll!  This book review has been in the works for 2 months.  I read this book right after Christmas, then the review got buried in my drafts box and now I'm finally pulling it out because this book really does deserved a proper review.
Photo Credit: www.margerysharp.wordpress.com
A very interesting-looking blog devoted to Margery Sharp.

The Gypsy in the Parlor is told through the eyes of an eleven year old girl who, every summer, leaves her lonely, cold house in the city to live with her big, bold aunts and their uninteresting husbands, the Sylvesters.  The summer of our narrator's eleventh birthday, a new aunt, Fanny, the prospective wife of the youngest uncle, comes on the scene.  She is the complete opposite of the older aunts-frail, timid, weak, and, finally, the night before her wedding, she succumbs to a mysterious sickness that threatens to take down all the powerful Sylvesters.  Our nameless narrator is the only one who feels the slightest connection to Fanny and we watch as Fanny uses this to her advantage.  And then (I am working very, very hard not to give spoilers here), our narrator turns from Fanny's pawn to the force that brings Fanny down.

I am curious about the use of the word Gypsy in the title.  First of all, in my edition, it's spelled Gipsy (and spell check doesn't seem to object to this, either).  Is this simply archaic spelling?  Spelling used in a specific geographic location?  This makes me very curious and I think I will have to do some research about this.  The other thing that I wonder about is how the word "Gipsy" is being used in this book.  The Gypsy is, of course, Fanny Davis, but the book never comes out and says that she is of Romany descent, so is this being used in the sense of, "person who is of dark and mysterious origin" or, "person who has done much traveling and is dark and mysterious"?  Just in the context of this book, I'm guessing it's the latter, but I'd love any feedback you have.

I was impressed by how well Sharp wrote a child narrator.  Writing about children is a skill that many authors don't have, let alone writing through a child.  I can think of many examples of gifted authors who simply could not convincingly write about or through children.  This is the only book I know of by Sharp, though, where a child is the key storyteller, so this surprised me even more.

The book's time setting did not look promising to me.  The story begins, "In the heat of the spacious August noon, in the heart of the great summer of 1870…", and I gave a little groan.   In my humble opinion, prior to, oh, the 90s,  a lot of authors were very unskilled at handling historical fiction and positively ruined a perfectly good storyline with all sorts of annoyingly anachronistic things that weren't necessary.  For the most part, I absolutely love fiction written in this era (1930s-60s), but once those authors turn to historical fiction, I quickly abandon the book.  All that to say, Sharp actually did a very good job.  The time period was very well written.  The observations on the decline that so many wealthy women would fall into was fascinating and so believable.  The narrator tells us, "It wasn't, at the time, particularly uncommon.  Ladies lay in declines all up and down the country…" and gives a very witty and biting description of declines and the lower-class's perception of them.

Of course, Sharp's wonderful dry humor is present throughout the book as it is in all of her writing.  This isn't one of her more famous books, but it should be.  I laughed and laughed throughout this book and was completely engrossed until the last page.  In fact, this book was so captivating that, when I was first reading the synopsis on some blog, I actually got a burning curiosity about the Fanny Davis mystery (and that was just from reading a synopsis, people!).  I really recommend that you find this book.  I suspect you might have a difficult time finding it, but I think it's worth it to search for it.

2 comments:

  1. I think this is going to be my next Margery Sharp read. As soon as I can get my hands on a copy! I believe "Gipsy" is just an alternate/British spelling of "Gypsy," by the way.

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    1. Interesting to know about the spelling! I hope you enjoy this book!

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