Review by Sylvia D:
The Eye of Love is a charming tale – just right for reading on your hotel balcony overlooking glorious Lake Como! The characterisation is delightful, the touch very light and the narrative sprinkled with wry humour.
One can just picture fifty-something Harry Gibson, rather stout and balding, hurrying down the street in his tweed jacket and bowler hat to visit his beloved thirty-something Dolores Diver, she with her tortoiseshell comb, her peony-emboidered Spanish shawl and her dark hair in braids. They have been lovers since first meeting ten years ago at the Chelsea Arts Ball, he dressed as a brown paper parcel and she as a Spanish dancer. Harry has set Dolores up in a little house in Paddington where he visits her two nights a week. She shares the house with her orphaned niece, Martha, who is now nine years old. The character of Martha, stolid, fond of her food, independent and resourceful, “stomping” everywhere, is also beautifully drawn: “All children under eight have charm, just as all young animals have, but little Martha had less than most” (p 6).
However, Harry’s furrier business is failing and in order to save it he is faced with having to marry Miranda, the unattractive, spinsterish daughter of his colleague, Mr Joyce. He and Dolores have an anguished parting and the reader is then entertained by Harry’s amusing attempts to delay the wedding as long as possible and to fend off Miranda’s amorous advances: he found kissing the bony Miranda “like kissing a sea-horse” (p 35). Dolores is now left with no income and is forced to take in a lodger, the nondescript Mr Phillips who mistakenly believes that Dolores owns the house and decides he is going to marry her. Miranda, jealous of Harry’s “Past”, tracks down Dolores and invites her to the pre-wedding cocktail party in order to show her up in Harry’s eyes. Things don’t work out as she had planned.
To others Harry and Dolores look slightly ridiculous. Dolores is known as “Old Madrid” to her fellow Spanish dancing students. Her lodger sees her, disapprovingly, as looking “foreign”. To Miranda she is nothing more than a scarecrow, and even the eye of friendship (Miranda’s father has become good friends with Harry) sees her as “’A skeleton! A bag-of-bones! A kiss of death!’” (p 185), Harry, though, with the eye of love, can only see her, “so dark and fragile” (p 12), as his “Spanish Rose” and she sees him,“so big and bluff” (p 12), as her “King Hal”. No wonder Miranda cannot win!
It is our nature and our emotions that determine how we see things. Martha, who has somehow managed to escape the attention of the school authorities, loves shapes and will spend whole afternoons drawing. She gradually develops a considerable talent, a talent which only Mr Joyce recognises. Martha too sees things through the eye of love so that when she goes down the street:
“Immediately, there was the grating in the gutter. To anyone who troubled to squat on the curb and use their hands as blinkers, the iron bars of this gradually assumed the appearance of granite columns, ranged like the portico of a temple; a shift of focus advanced the strips of blackness in between, producing a prison-gate” (p 15)
“Three houses from Miss Taylor, chiropodist, if the front door happened to open, one could glimpse within a really remarkable umbrella-stand shaped like an enormous frog; worth hanging about quite a while for” (p 16).
When an adult takes the same route, though, “. . . passing an open front-door Miranda glimpsed within a china-frog umbrella-stand almost perverse in its hideousness . . .” (p 170) and `She didn’t notice the grating in the gutter that Martha’s eye of love could turn into a Greek temple. If she had, she would have observed only that it was blocked by two banana-skins and a sucked orange” (p 171).
I can’t finish without giving just one example of the lovely humorous touches that pervade the novel. When Martha stomps her way into the local chapel where a service of Help and Repentance for Hardened Sinners is being conducted and goes forward to be saved, the only other penitent, the local match-seller queries:
‘Wotcher think you’re doing ‘ere?’ muttered Mr Johnson, out of the side of his mouth. ‘Repenting,’ said Martha rather loudly. ‘That’s no tone o’voice to repent in,’ said Mr Johnson snobbishly. ‘Pipe down a bit . . .’ (pp 19-20).
Margery Sharp is now best remembered for the children’s series The Rescuers but to my mind The Eye of Love, published in 1957, is timeless and could well qualify as her masterpiece as John Bayley claims in his introduction to this edition.
Claire, The Captive Reader, has also reviewed a Margery Sharp novel recently: Cluny Brown.