It seems ridiculous to write about these now, when they are imprinted in my mind as sunny summer reads. The wind is battering the windows and I got drenched earlier. It’s certainly no longer summer, but it will be nice to hark back to pleasant summer days for a while.
I’ve been slowly meandering my way through Mary Stewart’s novels over the last couple of years. They have been such a pleasant discovery, although I will admit I think they fall into the category of too much of a good thing. After an initial binge I have found it best to not read them back to back, in order to ensure maximum enjoyment. I very much hesitate to use the word formulaic, as her novels are far to delightful to be tarred with that brush, but there have, in the books i’ve read so far, been a number of beautiful, brave, young heroines caught up in thrilling situations in gorgeous settings.
Regardless, I am yet to find one of her stories which has not gripped me from the start. I think I have read each of them in single sittings, no doubt at the expense of much productivity. As such she seemed a forgone conclusion in terms of holiday reading and Madam, Will You Talk? her debut novel was packed. Needless to say I took absolutely no heed of my own advice and a day after finishing that I was on the kindle burying myself in Thunder on the Right.
Having read a few Mary Stewart novels in the past I did feel as though I could tell that Madam was an early novel. Don’t get me wrong, the story, pace and setting were all there, but to start with it had a slow beginning, with an ‘if I had only known then what was to come’ vibe which irritated me slightly. There was also a companion to Charity the heroine, who had to be abandoned repeatedly at every point of the plot, which left me wondering why she was included in the novel in the first place.
Once it started though the plot got off to a rattling pace. Murky characters abound and I found myself frantically turning pages. What starts as a quiet holiday turns into an adventure for the young widow, Charity, as she becomes embroiled in helping a young boy. At first she just wants to help him have fun, but then as she spends more time with him she realises all is not as it seems and she finds herself enmeshed in a situation she doesn’t fully understand trying to protect him.
The twists and turns might not be completely unpredictable… But this book was just sheer fun to read. It is definitely one of my favourite of her novels.
Perhaps I was in a contrary mood when I read Thunder or perhaps I should have taken my own advice and left more of a gap between reading these two novels, but I didn’t enjoy this book as much.
In this novel published two years later in 1957, the lovely young heroine, Jennifer, is on a quiet holiday in France to visit her cousin whom she has not seen for many years. At the opening of the novel, she is reflecting on her earlier life (helpfully if not particularly interestingly filling us in on everything we need to know so far) when she is stunned to run in to her ex-lover whom she hasn’t seen in a few years. She then goes to visit her cousin in the convent in the mountains where she has been staying only to find out that her cousin died before Jennifer arrived. She is of course shocked and devastated by this but when the first pangs of grief leave her she starts to realise that something is wrong in the Convent. Jennifer is determined to find out what is going on and what happened to her cousin. Various sinister characters try to shut her down.
Without giving spoilers away it is hard to explain exactly what I disliked about this novel, that stopped me from enjoying it in the same way as Stewart’s other novels. Part of how this thriller is resolved involves a character ending up in a scenario which seems somewhat darker than the rest of the novel. I would not have minded this but the consequences of this situation are not really looked into at all, and are sort of cast aside in the pursuit of a happy ending. This just did not work for me. I realise there are many unrealistic situations in any thriller, but for some reason this really bothered me and it detracted from my overall enjoyment. However, there was plenty of enjoyment to be had and I wouldn’t want my opinion to deter anyone from reading this.
As a small bonus, for me at least, both novels are set not long after the conclusion of the second world war and references to this are made in both books, which adds a little layer of depth and interest for me.
I look forward to my next Mary Stewart, either Airs Above Ground or The Crystal Cave if I stick to my to be read pile, but I think I’ll wait a while, perhaps, until I need cheered up on a bad day.