Wednesday, January 26, 2011

{review} the eye of love

Margery Sharp The Eye of Love (1957)

The Eye of Love (Virago Modern Classics)

The Eye of Love is a Virago Modern Classic and a blessed return to the light of day for a wonderful Margery Sharp book. As the world's biggest Cluny Brown fan {REVIEW}, I leapt on this book and devoured it. The Eye of Love is set in 1932 and traces the relationships of two long-term lovers who are forced to part in order for the male partner to save his business from bankruptcy and his mother from penury. Harry Gibson must marry the "unmarriageable daughter" of the business rival who has taken over his failing fur salon. The 'eye of love' enables a quite prosaic couple to see each other not as the scrawny ageing Miss Dolores Diver and the pudgy dull Mr Gibson, but rather as star-crossed lovers, "my Spanish Rose" and "my King Hal". To each other they have remained as ageless and fascinating as at their first meeting:
'Remember the chappie who fell into the drum?' asked Mr Gibson tenderly.
They had met for the first time at a Chelsea Arts Ball - Dolores dressed as a Spanish Dancer, Mr Gibson as a brown paper parcel.
...
'Of course I remember,' whispered Dolores.
'Remember those young devils who started to unwrap me?'
'It didn't matter. You'd pyjamas underneath...'
'I shall never forget how wonderful you looked, pulling me out of the cardboard...
'I couldn't bear to see you laughed at,' murmured Dolores. 'You were too big...'
Their lives, after their melancholy farewell ("They clung in genuine and ridiculous grief, collapsed together on the Rexine settee"), are filled with despair. Dolores, no longer a kept woman, must take in a lodger who attempts to ingratiate himself into her charms, assuming that the house - decorated as befits a middle-class mistress - is evidence that his landlady is a wealthy woman. Mr Gibson fares little better engaged to the jealous and hideously affectionate Miranda ("he felt he could hardly trust himself with Miranda at the top of the steep office flight"):
Kissing her had been like kissing a sea-horse. Mr Gibson knocked back his drink thankfully. ('I shall turn into a sozzler,' thought Mr Gibson - dispassionate as a physician diagnosing the course of a disease.)
He is fortunate to find companionship with Miranda's father. Mr Joyce has taken over Harry's failing business and made a success of it and got his daughter off his hands. Both provide each other with some much-needed masculine support amid the wedding chaos - "the millinery inferno" as Sharp brilliantly describes it.

But Dolores, having spent the past ten years devoted to her lover, has lost all of her friends, and sinks further into despair. The (ghastly) sitting-room which the lovers furnished together remains a shrine to her lost love:
'King Hal!' for instance, Dolores would cry - before the bronze lady: an obvious piece of nonsensicality. Or 'Big Harry!' ejaculated Miss Diver, caressing a stuffed ermine.
The observer of Dolores' depression is her odd young orphaned niece Martha who too has an 'eye of love' - she has the ability to see beauty in the everyday objects of daily life which she tries to draw: the gas oven, a street grating which looks like a Greek temple to her, a saucepan:
Martha suddenly perceived that the whole shape of the saucepan, foreshortened pan-part and straight handle, fitted into another, invisible shape: a long oval. It was a very happy moment.
Everything works out in the end, of course and the right people get their comeuppance. It is a sad and funny book, a bit Miss Pettigrew in parts. Highly recommended.

Rating: 10/10.
Words I'm going to use from now on: cantrip; ruddled; gage.
Typo: p.98 - natural]y
If you liked this... Cluny Brown or Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Tangenitally, I was also a little reminded, by the constrained life of Mr Gibson in the stuffy Knightsbridge flat of his fiancée's family, where everyone tries to be very English and shed their (hidden) Continental ways, of, I think it is, Anita Brookner's Family and Friends. (I say 'I think' as it's sometimes hard to distinguish one Brookner from another and I've packed mine away so I can't check).

 Family and Friends Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Persephone Classics)

2 comments:

  1. I can't think of cantrip without thinking of Sarah Caudwell's perfectly wonderful mysteries. Have you read any?

    This sounds marvelous. I think I'll put it on the list.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ooooh yes, I loved those, esp. the one where Julia (isn't she so brilliantly drawn?) ends up in Venice with a handsome dead bloke and a pile of tax law books in her bed. They were very funny and I must go and read them again.

    ReplyDelete

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