Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

Cluny Brown After reading The Nutmeg Tree a few months ago, I was desperate to read more books by Margery Sharp, so the news that several of her novels were being reissued by Open Road Media came just at the right time for me. I have been lucky enough to receive a copy of Cluny Brown for review via NetGalley, but official release day is Tuesday 12th April so not long to wait!

What I remember most from The Nutmeg Tree is its heroine, the wonderful Julia Packett. Cluny Brown is another memorable character – an intelligent, free-spirited young woman who refuses to ‘know her place’. To the dismay of Uncle Arn, who has brought up the orphaned Cluny, she’s the sort of girl who goes for tea at the Ritz on her own just to see what it’s like and who spends a whole day in bed eating oranges because she’s read in a magazine that it provides revitalisation. Uncle Arn is a plumber, a hard-working man leading a conventional life, and he’s unsure of the best way to deal with Cluny.

It is eventually decided that what Cluny needs is a job – and so she finds herself taking up a position as parlourmaid at Friars Carmel, a country house in Devon which is home to Sir Henry and Lady Carmel and their son, Andrew. With her ‘height, plainness and perfectly blank expression’, Cluny makes a perfect Tall Parlourmaid and soon settles into her new life, taking the neighbour’s dog for walks on her day off and forming a friendship with Mr Wilson, the local pharmacist.

But Cluny is not the only new arrival at Friars Carmel. The Polish academic Adam Belinski has been invited to Devon by Andrew, who is afraid for his friend’s safety. It’s 1938 and with the situation in Europe growing increasingly unsettled, Belinski (who becomes known to the family as The Professor) needs refuge from the Nazis. Andrew himself is still a bachelor but contemplating marriage with the beautiful Betty Cream….and it’s not long before Betty also decides to visit. Life at Friars Carmel is about to become much more complicated!

I loved Cluny Brown as a character. Like Julia in The Nutmeg Tree, she’s a real individual and doesn’t conform to the expectations of others, but at the same time she’s friendly, warm-hearted and always has the best of intentions. Her story is played out during a time of social change and unrest with Britain on the brink of war – and as the novel itself was published in 1944, this adds an interesting angle.

The conclusion to Cluny’s story surprised me, all the more so because what eventually happened was what I had initially expected to happen before Margery Sharp began to lead things in a different direction. I was quite happy with the ending, but I’m not sure whether Cluny would be happy with it once a few years had gone by; it would have been nice if Sharp had written a sequel, both for the pleasure of meeting this set of characters again and also so we could see whether everything did work out for Cluny.

I think I enjoyed The Nutmeg Tree slightly more than this one, but I have been impressed by both of the Margery Sharp books I’ve read so far and am looking forward to reading more of them. I just need to decide which to read next, now that so many tempting titles are being made available to us again.

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18 thoughts on “Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

  1. Sarah says:

    Margery Sharp keeps cropping up on my radar so I’ve been meaning to read something of hers for a while, but your description of Cluny’s character has really captured my imagination. As I’m one of the dwindling number of kindle luddites (the temptations of Netgallery may turn me in the end), I shall be keeping a ‘Sharp’ eye out for her books on my secondhand book trawls forthwith!

    • Helen says:

      I hope you manage to find some of her books, Sarah. They might not be easy to find, but I’m sure they are out there somewhere! I do prefer physical books myself, but the kindle can be invaluable if you like to read a lot of obscure or out of print books.

  2. Jane @ Beyond Eden Rock says:

    I wished for a sequel too, and I hoped, that Cluny would have gone on living life on her own terms and seizing the opportunities that came her way. She’s one of my favourite Margery Sharp heroines, and while I liked the book, I don’t think it’s quite her best work.

    • Helen says:

      The Nutmeg Tree is my favourite of the two I’ve read so far, but I will continue to work through her books and hopefully I’ll find some that I enjoy even more than that one. I probably wouldn’t have even thought of reading Margery Sharp if it hadn’t been for your blog, so thank you!

  3. Lisa says:

    I’m tempted just to say “me too” to Jane’s comment! I know the author says the ending is a good and happy one for Cluny, but I have my doubts.

    • Helen says:

      I thought a surprising and unconventional ending seemed appropriate for Cluny, but I also have doubts that she would be happy in the long term.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve really enjoyed both of the Margery Sharp books I’ve read so far, and I’m looking forward to reading more now that so many of her out of print books are being made available again.

    • Helen says:

      I’m looking forward to working my way through the new releases too. The only problem is that they all sound so intriguing, it’s difficult to know which one to choose next!

  4. FictionFan says:

    I have this from NG too, so it’s good to hear you enjoyed it! There’s a whole lot of buzz going on around these books at the moment, all positive it seems… 🙂

    • Helen says:

      It’s good to see an author who has been neglected for so many years being given some attention at last! I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you found it intriguing! I thought it was interesting that this book was published in 1944, in the middle of the war, but set in 1938, just before it began.

  5. Melissa Beck says:

    I loved this book and I also have The Nutmeg Tree which I am also going to read. I was fairly shocked at the ending. The epilogue seemed to hint that she liked her new life with [name removed]. (I hope I haven’t given too much away to your readers.)

    • Helen says:

      Yes, the ending was surprising! She did seem happy in the epilogue and I hope her happiness lasted into the future. I hope you don’t mind but I removed the name in your comment just in case people would rather not know. 🙂 Enjoy The Nutmeg Tree!

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