The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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October 21, 2012

R.I.P. VII: The Ivy Tree

      The sky was still, and had that lovely deepening blue of early evening. The high, piled clouds over to the south seemed to hang without movement. Against their curded bases the fells curved and folded, smooth slopes of  pasture, fresh from last night's rain, and golden-green in the late sunlight.
      The blocks of the Roman-cut stone were warm against my back. Before me the lough dreamed and ruffled, unchanged since the day I had first sat here. Two black-faced lambs slept in the sun; the same two, it seemed, that had lain there eight years ago when it had all began -- 
      ... I sat there, eyes shut, and remembered, in the warm green-and-blue silence. Not a lamb called; the curlews were silent; there was no breeze to stir the grasses, and the bees had gone home from the thyme. It might have been the world before life began...
      Though I had been waiting, I hadn't heard him approach. He had come quietly along the turf to the south of the Wall. He was standing close. The lambs, sleepy-eyed, had not even raised their heads.

This hasn't been my year for challenges and read-alongs, but I did want to read at least one thing for R.I.P. VII.  I had seen this book mentioned recently, described as 'romantic suspense,' and that sounded like the perfect thing. {I have a few Edith Wharton ghost stories bookmarked, too -- little-piece-of-paper-in-the-book bookmarked -- and I think there'll still be time for those, too.}

I knew that I had heard of Mary Stewart, but wasn't sure I had ever read her.  {Have you?} As it turns out, I had -  I'd even read this one, almost exactly twenty years ago. But I had more of a vague, pleasant association with the author's name than any specific recollection of this book. This is the kind of book that I used to find more often, when I was more in the habit of wandering through the library stacks and finding stretches of books by an unfamiliar author. {That was probably what happened in September 1992, because I read two of her other books at about the same time.} Sometimes I think I miss out by not physically doing that as much anymore.

Re-reading it, then, I found The Ivy Tree very appealing, almost in the way I find old movies so appealing. I don't even want to describe the plot, because I liked the way it unfolded, even in the first few pages.  Let's just say that a young woman returns to her family home, after running away eight years earlier, when everyone except her grandfather believes she is dead, and there are matters of deception, and inheritance, and motives for murder, and two angry, jilted men.

What drew me in most was Mary Stewart's powers of description -- both of places and settings, and of characters. The countryside is beautiful, but there's still an unsetteled atmosphere {she's good with weather, for instance.}  Then, she draws all of her characters in a way that makes them very distinct, and very consistent.   The book is 50 years old (it was first published in 1961), and even though the clothes and the setting are of its time, and so is the plot (in a CSI sense), it somehow seems kind of crisp and modern. That's really interesting to me. {I like the cover of this new edition, too.}

Suspenseful?  Thriller?  I think I knew what the twist was going to be, long before it came. {But if you think about it, in a story about an imposter, there's really one possible twist, isn't there?}  Mary Stewart is also very good at making the twists and turns in the plot come suddenly, with important things sometimes happening in the space between two sentences (really).  And there was enough suspense to keep me reading the last 50 pages all at once, wanting to know what would happen next.


Helen said...

I read this a few months ago and enjoyed it, though it's not my favourite Mary Stewart novel (that would probably be Nine Coaches Waiting). The twist was easy to guess but I agree that there was still plenty of suspense!

Vintage Reading said...

Still haven't dipped my toe in with Stewart but I keep reading favourable reviews. Love that cover, by the way!

FleurFisher said...

it's not been my year for challenges either, but I did read this for the letter I in the crime fiction alpahabet before I dropped out. I loved it, and I pulled out the same passage as you to quote.

Lynn said...

I don't think I've read any of this author and yet reading your review I was thinking it sounded like I had! I'm pretty sure that I haven't though so I'll take a look out for this author at my library.
Lynn :D

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