I discovered Maura Laverty around the same time as Kate O'Brien, a fellow Irish writer. But the only book of Laverty's that I ever read was Never No More. That was back in the infancy of the internet, before I could browse bookstore inventories around the world, and also before interlibrary loan was available to regular library users as it is today. It's hard to remember when I had to wait patiently for books to come to me, rather than going out to find them. (On the other hand, in those days I had a minuscule TBR pile.)
As it happens, I also re-discovered Maura Laverty as I did Kate O'Brien, though Verity's Virago Venture. That's where I was reminded that there is a sequel to Never No More, in which Delia, the narrator, goes off to Spain as a "miss," a chaperone/governess, just as Mary Lavelle does in Kate O'Brien's book of that name, which I read last month. Laverty's sequel, No More Than Human, immediately went on my TBR pile. But since it has been so long since I've read Never No More, I wanted to read it again first, to get re-acquainted with Delia before following her off on further adventures.
Never No More opens in October of 1920, as Delia and her family return from her father's funeral, in the small town of Ballyderrig in County Kildare. Delia's mother has decided to move the family to the near-by town of Kilkenny, where she will open a dressmaking business. Delia's distress over leaving Ballyderrig turns to joy when her beloved grandmother offers to give her a home and even fund her education to become a teacher. While Delia and her mother have a difficult relationship, her grandmother provides the love and security she needs. Her mother is more than happy to leave her behind, and Delia moves that night to her grandmother's farm, Derrymore House.
There Delia settles into an idyllic life, one of hard work but also of home comforts described in loving detail, especially Gran's cooking. In the introduction to my Virago edition, Maeve Binchy writes that
"Maura Laverty was a food pornographer, her pages are full of spicy vapours which would cajole a dying man to eat, luscious pools of butter on speckled surfaces of seed cake, potato apple cakes oozing with sugar and butter. She is sensual and specific and utterly convincing, and she is not even writing a cookery book."Binchy points out later that Laverty did write two very successful cookbooks, "which are still a legend in Ireland." And oh this book is full of food - definitely not a book to read on an empty stomach. It is country cooking with farm ingredients, and it would probably horrify a vegetarian. But as much as food, this book is full of love. Delia says of her Gran,
"You were the purple bog and ripe wheat-field and a crab tree in May. You were good food, and songs in the firelight and the rosary at night. You were a welcome for my coming and a prayer for my going out. You were Gran."Her Gran is a wonderful character, a perfect surrogate mother, a woman of great faith, wisdom and charity, always willing to lend a hand to those in need. Living at Derrymore House, Delia also remains part of the close-knit community of Ballyderrig, and she weaves in stories from the town and outlying farms, many of which deal with the dark side of life, with illness, violence, and death. Yet under Gran's influence Derrymore House remains an Eden. When Delia reluctantly leaves it for a convent boarding school, she proves to be an unsuccessful student and returns with relief to Gran. In the end, however, she must leave Ballyderrig forever, for this new post in Spain.
Never No More is a lovely book, and I can see its influences in Maeve Binchy's books. I am looking forward to Delia's adventures in Spain, though like her I was sad to leave Ballyderrig, and Gran.