CLUNY BROWN: Perfect for PBS

Cluny Brown


Cluny Brown

A Novel
By: Margery Sharp
Narrated by: Anna Parker-Naples
Length: 7 hrs and 24 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Release date: 07-31-18
Language: English
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Original Publication: 1944

I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.

Cluny Brown refuses to know her place in society. Last week, she took herself to tea at the Ritz. Then she spent almost an entire day in bed eating oranges. So, to teach her discipline, her uncle, a plumber who has raised the orphaned girl since she was a baby, sends her into service as a parlor maid at one of England’s stately manor houses.

At Friars Carmel in Devonshire, Cluny meets her employers: Sir Henry, the quintessential country squire, and Lady Carmel, who oversees the management of her home with unruffled calm. Their son, Andrew, newly returned from abroad with a Polish emigre writer friend, is certain the country is once again on the brink of war. Then there’s Andrew’s beautiful fiancee and the priggish town pharmacist.  

While everyone around her struggles to keep pace with a rapidly changing world, Cluny continues to be Cluny, transforming those around her with her infectious zest for life.


My Take Oblong Shaped

I do not believe I have read anything by Margery Sharp before but it belongs with that dry, intelligent, often subtle, but no less funny humor, we associate with Sir P.G. Wodehouse, the amusing romances of Georgette Heyer with its subtle mockery of the class system or even the Poor Relation series by M.C. Beaton (although M.C. Beaton is still living).  There’s just something about this kind of quiet writing that makes it feel British. 

Originally published in 1944 about the period between one war and the other this tale is different. An awkward, but prosperous, working class family composed of an uncle and his niece (Cluny), as well as an aunt and her husband, sends the niece into domestic service in the country after a customer tries to take advantage of Cluny.  She is also accused of stepping out of her place in society by taking tea at the Ritz.  I didn’t get why the thing with the oranges was so bad see blurb).  The family spends Sundays reading the paper, so they are aware of the times but they act stuck in their class as if the world isn’t changing. Both the upper and lower classes are classist.

Maybe that’s the point: the son of the  family into which she has become employed is betting there will be a war but only in the vaguest terms and is intent on saving this Polish emigre who had to leave Poland because of the Nazis.  Now this Polish man is either brilliant or a fortunate fraud — I could never figure out which it was — whose books are becoming popular, especially in America. 

I think Cluny would be a brilliant visual story, played by the right actor – someone who could be awkward and plain, genuine and ingenuous.  I don’t think it held together on paper, but maybe I’ve become so accustomed to these British tales of class disparity being presented on TV, or even film, that they don’t work as well, for me in print or even in audio.

There was too much telegraphing of the end and not enough reasoning for it.  There was one part which takes up a bit of time but doesn’t really seem to come back to close the circle.  I think it was really about the motivation behind behind the romance was classism and how the British upper-class sees the intellectual Polish emigre as noble, even  if foreign, until he turns into a poor guest. They looked out at the other people in England as less than themselves but they are motivated by only working on estate management, dogs, horses and the hunt.   Finding a mate and producing an heir is part of estate management. Oh, it is complicated the way the classes were constructed and then dissected.  I would say Cluny is the rock thrown into the gears but in the end, British society is changed no one bit by this girls who doesn’t know her place. 

Why was this published almost 70 years after its original release?  How are we supposed to relate to it, and why?  Is it a historical piece that strictly looks to explain British society of the 1940s and why it was disintegrating?  Or, is it supposed to be relevant today?  I am not really sure.  I find it hard to believe it’s trying to explain British society today as it is so obviously different than it was as evidenced by the marriage  Prince Harry and Megan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. 

I enjoyed the book and the narration by Anna Parker-Naples with her soft voice, with a precise and clipped accent. Her voices are appropriate for age, and , well, class.

I enjoyed it but, I would enjoy it on PBS even more.


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