From Publishers Weekly
American readers first turned on to Gardam via Old Filth are in for a surprise with the witty though decidedly more serious story of Margaret Marsh, who comes of age in interwar England. Margaret grows up the only child in an oppressively religious household, and her world gets a much-needed shaking up when her mother, Ellie, has another child and hires a maid, the bawdy but loving Lydia. Lydia immediately begins taking Margaret on day trips that open her eyes to the way others live. Margaret's father, Kenneth, meanwhile, sees Lydia as a laboratory for his Godly work, though he ends up being a less than ideal practitioner of the moral lifestyle he preaches. Then there's Ellie, whose reintroduction to a long-lost love tempts her down the path of what might have been. It all leads to a precipice of disillusion for Margaret regarding her parents' behavior, shattering her perceptions and leading to tragedy. Gardam doesn't waste a word, and the story reads as fresh and relevant now as when it was originally published in Great Britain in 1978.
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With the birth of her baby brother, eight-year-old Margaret Marsh is banished from the house every Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the idyllic English seaside—at peace between the world wars—with the family’s new, young, and bawdy maid. Largely ignored, the child has all the freedom she needs to observe and quietly condemn the adults around her. Gardam’s novel, originally published in the UK in 1978, offers a searing blend of upended morals, delayed salvation, and emotional purgatory, especially where love and sex are concerned. Margaret’s mother, Elinor, begins to lose the faith thrust upon her by her zealot husband, who is bent on the conversion of the young maid, despite protest from both women. How perfect, then, that Mrs. Marsh’s childhood sweetheart should return to town and provide a decidedly secular contrast to her saintly husband. After a pivotal tea party, everyone hurtles toward inevitable tragedy, with Gardam’s intricate prose and keen divining of human nature driving the action. --Courtney Jones