Margery Sharp Day: The Nutmeg Tree

One of the things I love about book blogging is being introduced to authors I would otherwise never have thought about reading. Margery Sharp is one of those authors. Jane at Beyond Eden Rock hosted a celebration of Margery’s work on her birthday (25th January) last year but I wasn’t able to take part, so I was pleased to see that she was doing it again this year. Not knowing much about any of her books, I picked her 1937 novel The Nutmeg Tree, which I hoped would be a good place to start.

And it was a good place to start! I found it a light, entertaining and witty story with a main character I loved. Her name is Julia (“by marriage Mrs. Packett, by courtesy Mrs. Macdermot”) and as the novel opens, she is in the bath singing the Marseillaise while men from the Bayswater Hire Furniture Company are removing her furniture. The reason for this is that she needs money for a journey to France to visit her daughter, Susan. Susan was the product of Julia’s brief marriage to a soldier who was killed in action, and being young and keen to pursue a career as an actress, Julia had left her daughter to be raised by her in-laws. Now, after nearly twenty years, Susan has sent a letter to her mother, begging her to come to visit the family in France. She wants to get married, she says, “and Grandmother objects”.

Reunited with her daughter after such a long absence, Julia finds that Susan is very different from herself: sensible, reliable and with strong principles. However, when she meets Bryan, the man Susan intends to marry, Julia immediately knows he is one of “her sort”. She is sure he won’t make Susan happy, so she has a decision to make. Should she support the marriage or oppose it? To make things worse, Bryan also recognises Julia as a kindred spirit. Will he expose her true character to her in-laws, to whom she has been trying to pass herself off as a respectable lady?

I wasn’t sure at first whether Julia would be a character I was going to like, but I did warm to her very quickly and enjoyed reading about her exploits as she stumbled from one disaster to another. She has such a mixture of qualities, some good and some bad: she can be irresponsible and often acts without thinking, but she’s also warm, friendly and fun-loving. She may have made mistakes in the past (and continues to make them in the present) but her heart is in the right place and she tries so hard to be ‘good’ that it’s easy to forgive her. I ended up loving Julia, though I couldn’t help but wonder what readers in 1937 would have thought of her!

Julia is the star of the story, but some of the other characters are wonderful too, particularly Susan’s grandmother who is convinced that Julia is going to open a cake-shop (and even starts collecting recipes on her behalf), and Sir William, Susan’s guardian, who is also visiting the family and with whom Julia finds herself falling in love. I desperately wanted Julia and Sir William to get the happy ending they deserved, though I’m not going to tell you whether that happens or not, of course! I did think the ending seemed quite abrupt, which I found slightly disappointing at first, but on reflection it was probably the best way the story could have ended.

I’m so pleased that my first experience of Margery Sharp’s work has been a good one and I’m sure I’ll be reading more of her books in the future.

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24 thoughts on “Margery Sharp Day: The Nutmeg Tree

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Lovely review, and I think you found this book as good as I did. Like you, I did wonder what 1930s readers would have thought of Julia but I loved that Sharp was so unjudgemental.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, it would have been easy for Sharp to pass judgement on Julia’s behaviour (particularly her decision to leave her daughter in the care of her grandparents) but she doesn’t, which is something I really liked.

  2. Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock says:

    I loved this book, and I’m so pleased that you did too. Margery Sharp does have a particular way with endings; I usually have to think about them for a while, but I almost always agree with her in the end.

    I’m so pleased that you found a book and were able to be part of Margery Sharp Day.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for hosting another Margery Sharp Day, Jane. I didn’t get organised in time to take part last year, so was determined to find a book to read this year! I think I made a good choice with The Nutmeg Tree.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read Dorothy Whipple or Muriel Spark yet (thanks for reminding me that I need to try them!) but yes, I think if you like Barbara Pym you will probably enjoy The Nutmeg Tree. 🙂

  3. elainethomp says:

    I’ve read some Margery Sharp, including this one, but I don’t remember this half as fondly as you’ve written about it. I must pick it up again. Of those I have read my favorite has always been The Flowering Thorn .

    • Helen says:

      I think this was the right book at the right time for me; I wanted something fun and entertaining and that was what I got. I will be trying more of her books at some point and I’m pleased you’ve recommended The Flowering Thorn as that’s one that I’ve been particularly interested in reading.

  4. aartichapati says:

    I’ve never even heard of this author! I’ll have to look her up. The way you describe her, she sounds a bit like Barbara Pym.

    • Helen says:

      I don’t think I had ever heard of her either, until Jane’s first Margery Sharp Day last year. Most of her books are out of print now, unfortunately.

  5. Lisa says:

    Julia is such a wonderful character! I’m also very fond of her mother-in-law, who is off in her own world for most of the story, planning out Julia’s cake shop 🙂

    I’ve found the endings in the books I’ve read so far to be a bit abrupt, and also sometimes rather ambiguous – as if we’re left to decide for ourselves whether the ending is a happy one or not. I think it is here (I’m less convinced about Cluny Brown’s!)

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