Thursday, October 15, 2015

REVIEW | This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
Publication Year: 1964
Genre: Mystery Thriller, Romance
Series: NA
Awards: Edgar Award Nominee, 1964
Format: Paperback
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  Lark at The Bookwyrm's Hoard said good things! Plus I am a super fan of what I think are Mary Stewart's most famous books, her Arthurian legend series (The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills most notably). 

Ahhh... those swinging sixties.  It's not an era I have a lot of interest in and therefore I haven't read a lot of books set in this time period.  It's also a big departure from what I am used to from Mary Stewart since all I've read is her Arthurian legend stories.  I should have known that she would easily make a more modern story and setting work equally as well as Arthurian England, because she is a fabulous writer.

The story takes place on the island of Corfu, which some believe may have been the real life model for Prospero's island in Shakespeare's The Tempest.  A young theater actress, Lucy Waring, is visiting her sister on Corfu and is thrilled to learn that one of the three houses on her sister's estate is being let to the Laurence Olivier-esque Julian Gale. She is less thrilled when she meets Julian's rather unfriendly and over-protective son Max who seems to pop up and plague her whenever she is least expecting it.  Things turn tragic quickly in the book when one of the servants on the estate is killed in a boating accident coupled with several other mysterious occurrences.  Lucy becomes entangled in the mystery and is determined to figure out what exactly is going on.

I completely inhaled this book and if time had allowed would likely have been happy to take it all in, in one sitting.  Lucy Waring is totally charming, self- sufficient, feisty, resourceful, brave and she pretty much saves the day.
“As I put the car into gear, I saw him usher the silent girl through her mother’s door as if he already owned the place. Suppressing a sharp – and surely primitive – envy for a woman who could have her problems simply taken out of her hands and solved for her willy-nilly, I put down my own independent and emancipated foot, and sent the little Fiat bucketing over the ruts of the drive…”

As you can tell from the quote, there is plenty of wry humor in the book but no real cynicism, at least from Lucy.   She is incredibly compassionate and has a strong sense of what is right and just.  I loved that it is these qualities that finally drive her more jaded love interest to declare his romantic feelings. 
“Why did one always feel such a fool when it was a matter of kindness- what the more sophisticated saw as sentimentality?”
Because, oh yeah! The correct descriptive term for this story is "romantic suspense" and I think this represents my first read in this sub-genre.  It's got a mystery/thriller type vibe but also a lovely romance story line.  I really liked it!  There was never very much suspense about who Lucy would end up falling in love with but the development of the romance was a nice enrichment to the overall plot nonetheless.

The setting, besides making me dearly wish for a vacation, added a good bit of flavor to the story as well especially with Corfu's status as a candidate as the island in The Tempest. The portrayal of the people of Corfu is perhaps a little Anglo-centric but it’s not too bad and in many ways they reflect the characteristics of the heroine – resourceful and self-sufficient. I especially appreciated the inclusion of just a whisper of the spiritual; the Festival of St. Spiridion and both Lucy and another character's somewhat miraculous deliverance from the sea adds some magic and hooks the story back into The Tempest.

Mary Stewart is also a terrific writer who produced paragraphs of transporting descriptive prose. Describing a ride on a motorcycle with a young greek youth:
“…[the road] swooped clean down the side of Pantokrator in a series of tight-packed hairpin bends which I suppose were steep and dangerous, but which we took at a speed that carried us each time to the very verge, where a tuft or so of daisies or a small stone would catch us and cannon us back onto the metal. The tyres screeched, the god shouted gaily, the smell of burning rubber filled the night, and down we went, in a series of bird like swoops which carried us at last to the foot of the mountain and the level of the sea.” 
She would also occasionally include thoughtful passages that provided something a little more to chew on than you might expect in a confection such as this. 
“It seems to me you can be awfully happy in this life if you stand aside and watch and mind your own business, and let other people do as they like about damaging themselves and each other. You go on kidding yourself that you're impartial and tolerant and all that, then all of the sudden you realize you’re dead and you’ve never been alive at all. Being alive hurts.” 
I don't think Stewart is advocating poking your nose into everyone elses' business, by the way, I think she is arguing for a need of more compassion towards and solidarity with our fellow humans and to stay involved and make sure to connect.  Or she could be arguing for interfering in everybody elses' life - who knows! See! It makes you think!

FINAL VERDICT:  I am certainly very happy to have discovered this "other side" to Mary Stewart.  This was also my first romantic suspense novel but it certainly won't be my last.  Stewart spins a fast moving and action packed tale in an exotic setting with down to earth characters.  4 out of 5 Stars!

Other Opinions: The Bookwyrm's Hoard | Leaves and Pages | She Reads Novels

No comments:

Post a Comment