Book Review for “Rhododendron Pie” by Margery Sharp.
Summary: “This story of Ann Laventies who refuses to live up to her family’s elegance and snobbery. Her father is an exquisite dilettante; her brother, Dick, a competent artist and polished adventurer with the ladies; her sister, Elizabeth, the writer of fine essays. But Ann is disappointed in the “rhododendron pies” that are served on her birthday, dishes which are filled with flowers to gladden the eye instead of fruit to be eaten.” Sharp’s debut work, originally published in 1930, is a “novel of English life in town and country – a tale which pointedly contrasts the aesthetic and practical viewpoints.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary Fiction, Women, Coming-of-Age; Settings: Contemporary, United Kingdom, London, Sussex; Other Categories: Novel, Debut, Vintage, Re-Release.
This ended up being one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever attempted to write. See, I just adored this book, but I’m worried that either I won’t do it justice, or I’ll give something away that I shouldn’t. But if we start with the basics, I shouldn’t go too wrong, right? So, let’s start with Sharp’s writing style. The short answer is totally charming, with some delightfully poetic interludes. Sharp really knows how to paint us a picture, to where we can visualize every room in this lovely home where the Laventies live, and practically every stitch of clothing. We also can see how almost all of our characters look, especially our main protagonist Ann, her brother and sister, and her parents – not to mention the male romantic interests. More importantly, when Sharp starts giving us dialog and describing conversations, that’s where we see the satirical side of this novel. In fact, this is another one of those books where I found myself with a smile on my face, every time I took a pause from reading.
This is, as noted, Ann’s story, where we see her as a young woman, starting to make her way in the world, and much in the shadow of her siblings and parents. All of them seem to have huge personalities, and if I’m not mistaken, Sharp seems to write herself into the story as Ann’s older sister Elizabeth – at least career-wise. In this way, I think that Sharp also made fun of herself, while looking on fondly at Ann with her various levels of innocence, but with just enough disdain for her naivety as most older sisters would have for their younger ones. At the same time, her brother Dick seems to vacillate between paying no attention to Ann at all, and actually enjoying her company. Being a youngest of three myself, this type of family dynamic seems to be something very true, and evergreen.
The humorous edge to this book increased as I got further into this book, and towards the end, I realized that one might almost compare this story with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Kind of… in a way. See, Ann is this younger daughter who doesn’t seem to realize how attractive she is to men, and she’s also terribly independent. However, she’s more of a Jane Bennett than she is a Lizzie in the eyes of society, but I have a feeling that her parents would say otherwise. The thing is, although Ann is a type of rebel, what she is rebelling against is not convention, but rather those who believe that breaking with the norms of the past is the modern way towards progress. In fact, it seems Ann wants to retreat into the traditions of her grandparents, and not be forced to follow the many social innovations that her parents and siblings seem admire. Even so, she also doesn’t want to be subjugated, but rather be allowed to follow the customs for which she feels an affinity. In short, Ann wants the best of both worlds – to be both modern and old fashioned.
While writing this, I realized that what makes this book so enjoyable is that Sharp has given us a type of character that exists to this day. She’s the type of woman who might not want to be called a feminist, and yet, she is. You see, all Ann wants is to be respected and loved for who she is, and allowed to follow her own path without obstacle. Sharp shows us both the ridiculous and the sublime of the era during which she lived, and through this, draws us a lovely tale, that has just a touch of romance thrown into a very timely coming-of-age story. Furthermore, it feels so polished, it is hard to believe that this was Sharp’s debut novel. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I have to say that Dean Street Press has done it again! I cannot recommend it warmly enough, and I have to give it a full five out of five stars!
Dean Street Press will re-release the 1930 novel “Rhododendron Pie” by Margery Sharp on January 4, 2021 as part of their Furrowed Middlebrow series. This book is (or will be) available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel.