britannia mews

Today is Margery Sharp Day hosted at Fleur in Her World. I’d never really heard of Margery Sharp until reading Jane’s posts, but I am always up for trying a new author especially one who wrote in the first half of the twentieth century, which is turning out to be my favorite of all time periods, book-wise. I found this 1946 copy of Britannia Mews online and it not only looks gorgeous but was a thoroughly engrossing and entertaining tale.

I suppose this could be termed a ‘family saga’ as it relates the story of two families, the Culvers and the Hambros, from the late nineteenth century up through World War II. But it’s also the story of one small area of London, Britannia Mews, and how it changes over 70 years from a genteel, middle-class neighborhood, to an unquestionable slum then to a haven for artists and rebels. One member of the family, Adelaide Culver, receives most of the narrative attention as she is the first to break from the conventions of Victorian England and move into a more bohemian world, living nearly all her days in the Mews. Addie’s been raised in the Mews as a young child until her family moved to a more respectable house in Kensington. But when she elopes with an alcoholic artist when she is barely out of her teens and moves back into Britannia Mews she becomes a fixture of the neighborhood for the next half century.

Her rather unorthodox life is contrasted with that of her cousin, Alice, who marries a nice accountant and moves to Surbiton. Over the years Addie shuns her family and the family turn their backs on her even when she suffers some really terrible trials. As the years go by Addie maintains her distance, but the family inevitably draws back together as they age and war closes many of the gaps in their relationships.

I was constantly surprised by this novel. The characters were very unpredictable and the many unexpected turnings of the plot made this a fresh and exciting reading experience. Sharp’s writing is straight forward and fantastically descriptive and the dialogue is frank and vigorous. I always love multi-generational stories and this one is so satisfying. I turned the last page sad to leave the family behind.

Thanks to Jane for introducing me to a fantastic author whom I look forward to reading more of in the coming year and Happy Birthday to Margery Sharp.

14 Comments

  1. I wasn’t able to find any of her grown-up novels in our libraries, but I am making a list of titles from the posts I’m reading. And this one sounds very interesting!

  2. That is a lovely edition, and I am so pleased that it went to a good home. I have yet to read this book and I do love the sound of it. Thank you for being part of Margery Sharp Day.

  3. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    So many Margery Sharp books to hunt for, and they all sound so different but equally appealing. Thanks for posting about this one! (I love the typography on the cover too.)

    • Isn’t the cover so simple and gorgeous? I haven’t had time to read all the Margery Sharp posts yet, but I hope to get around this week.

  4. I’m a new convert too – I like the sound of this one, esp. the idea of tracing a setting through a long period of time. I can imagine she’s be wonderful at that.

  5. This sounds like another of her titles I’d like to read. You were lucky to find such a lovely old edition to read – nothing at all here but thank goodness for Open Library.

    • I did download an Open Library edition to start off, but much prefer print books so I am glad I found this one. And it was in pristine condition!

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  7. Oh that’s wonderful! I know exactly where there is a second-hand copy languishing on a shelf at the Reuse Centre so that’s an errand to make.
    Really like the new look as well!

  8. Lovely review. Like you, I hadn’t really heard of Margery Sharp until I read Jane’s post, and now I’m hooked. I’m about half-way through this one, and still reading Cluny Brown as well, but I have finished The Nutmeg Tree, which is wonderful – more light-hearted than Britannia Mews, but with a very unconventional heroine.

    • Thank you! I gather Britannia Mews was a little more serious than her usual works. I’d love to read more of her books, but they’re a little hard to find in my part of the world.

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