Posts Tagged ‘Corfu’

TThis Rough Magic Mary Stewart Coronet paperbackhis Rough Magic by Mary Stewart ~ 1964. This edition: Coronet, 1974. Paperback. ISBN: 0-340-02202-7. 255 pages.

My rating: 6/10

I haven’t read Mary Stewart for absolutely years and years, and now I remember why. This book was so full of action and plot twists that it was positively exhausting! In a mostly good way, but by golly, I had to pay attention.

I have collected a number of Mary Stewart novels in the past few years, as part of the personal circulating library I maintain and continually add to for my housebound elderly mother, but for some reason I have not dipped into them myself, perhaps because I rather overdid it on them in my teen years, and somehow felt I had moved on.

The Mary Stewart Reading Week , September 15th to 21st, celebrating the author’s long career and her 97th birthday which is actually today, September 17th, has been planned and hosted by a fellow book blogger whose site I greatly enjoy, Anbolyn of the intriguingly named Gudrun’s Tights. I share so many of the same tastes as Anbolyn, I was thereby moved to give Mary Stewart another go in honour of this occasion. I’ve just finished This Rough Magic, am well started on Airs Above the Ground (early impression – excellent – I’m really loving this one), and expect to tackle The Ivy Tree next, and possibly Touch Not the Cat, if I can squeeze it into my travelling bag. We’re about to head out on a week-long driving adventure in our very small vintage sports car, so paperbacks are the order of the day, and TNTC is a hefty hardcover, so it might not be allowed.

So here is a quick rundown on This Rough Magic. The clock is ticking loudly this morning, and I need to soon be up and away from the computer. so I’ll see if I can keep it short and to the point. (I do tend to run on…) My husband is in the kitchen making waffles, a special treat though a rather complicated production – he is skilled at a very few particular items, excellent waffles being one of them – but is not the most efficient of cooks, so I have a bit of time. Let’s see what I can do.

A not much more than mediocre London actress, our heroine and first person narrator, Lucy Waring, is “resting” at her wealthy-by-marriage older sister’s villa on the Greek Island of Corfu. Basking in the sunshine and catching up on news with her beloved sister (who is, incidentally, happily very pregnant with her third child), the sting of the ignominious ending of Lucy’s first big theatrical role is fading fast. And there is a lot to catch up on. A neighbouring villa is temporary home to a certain Godfrey Manning, a wealthy world traveller, author and photographer, who is writing a book about Corfu, while the venerable and famous Julian Gale, a noted Shakespearian actor, is reclusively resident in the rather derelict Castello dei Fiori, accompanied by his son Max, an accomplished composer.

The first inkling that there may be troublesome events brewing to disturb Lucy’s peaceful holiday is when she takes a solitary swim in the bay, and has an initially terrifying encounter with a people-friendly dolphin. She makes the shore, realizes that the dolphin is merely trying to play, and ventures back into the water with him, when her joy at the dolphin’s advances turn to horror as she realizes that someone is shooting at it with a silenced rifle. Catching a glimpse of a figure in the woods above the bay, she storms up to confront the suspected gunman, only to be rudely rebuffed by Max Gale. He denies any knowledge of any shooting, and sneers at Lucy’s allegations, accusing her of being overly dramatic. She comes away feeling that she’s come off poorly in the encounter, which is depressing as she greatly admires Max’s father, and had rather wanted any encounters with the Gale family to be good ones.

The next dramatic thing that happens is the tragic loss at sea of her sister’s maid’s twin brother while out on a nighttime sail with the enigmatic Godfrey Manning, followed soon after by Lucy’s shocking discovery of a drowned body, which she at first thinks is the brother, but who turns out to be a local fisherman rumoured to be involved in the local side industry of smuggling to the nearby closed Communist country of Albania.

Ah, yes, for this is the 1960s, and Communism and the Cold War are at their full-blown peak; something one has to remember when considering the following plot twists and turns.

Lucy tenaciously goes on her way familiarizing herself with Corfu and meeting the locals. She makes friends with Sir Julian, and is casually courted rather by the über-self-confident Godfrey, but does not seem to be making much headway with the glowering and still-hostile Max.

Until, that is, a midnight encounter involving the dolphin, a fabulous diamond ring, and a passionate embrace (page 101) while hip-deep in the phosphorescent sea. Now we’re cooking with gas, as the saying goes, and the action really picks up.

Smugglers, Communist spies, murderers, counterfeit money, mad motorcycle rides, burning kisses, and secrets galore are all involved from here on in; the ending is shockingly explosive (literally) while the heroes and heroines escape relatively unscathed and the bad guys are suitably knocked down to size.

Wow! That was exhausting just to read. <Fanning myself with book.>

But here’s the kicker. Did I really like this book?

Parts of it, definitely. I loved the author’s intelligence and the offhand way she assumes her readers are as literate as she is; continual snippets of quotation pop up both in the chapter headings and throughout the narrative; I caught some and suspect there were others that flew by me. I liked the heroine’s matter-of-fact assessment of her own skills as an actress, and her blunt description of her not-quite-stellar career; I enjoyed her voice for the early part of the story, before she became embroiled in the inevitable romantic entanglements later on.  I enjoyed many of the author’s descriptive passages; she very obviously has experienced and/or intimately researched her setting.

But other parts, particularly towards the end as the suspense builds, I don’t like so much. We can see the passionate response to the brooding mystery man coming from a long, long way away; methinks the lady falls too fast and too hard; her previous self-assessment and obvious sophistication in the ways of the world make her impulsive abandonment of good sense hard to stomach.

The action sequences I found to be overworked and more than slightly unbelievable; the dolphin bits as well as the motorcycle ride and the subsequent cat-and-mouse escapades with the murderous criminal mastermind of the slightly implausible mystery. The whole Tempest connection is overworked (in my opinion) and played out beyond its initial appeal as a clever “hook”. The aging actor’s save-the-day performance was absolutely no surprise to me at all; I suspect that this would pop up at some point, and by golly, how right I was. The convenient demise of the bad guy was too convenient, tidying things up just a bit too suddenly and, if I dare say, too appropriately. The God-like hand of the author is very evident in the dénouement; she might as well have tied a bow on this one; it was decidedly wrapped up at the end! The whole political element continued to confuse me even after I reread key points – such as they were – I felt that it was sketchy all the way through.

I did however enjoy reading the story; it helped a lot to have undertaken it as part of a participatory event, and I will be interested to read others’ thoughts on This Rough Magic, if anyone chooses to read it for the Mary Stewart Reading Week. (Returning to add that I see a few others have indeed done so – excellent!) The good bits were very good; the other bits were acceptable if viewed through “I’m reading a vintage book” lenses; I can see why Mary Stewart is beloved of so many readers, even though I cannot count myself among one of her true fans, at least not quite yet. I am looking forward to reading more of her titles; I feel, after reading This Rough Magic, that the author’s work has more to offer than it at first appears.

Onward then, to Airs Above the Ground, and The Ivy Tree, my other two Mary Stewart Reading Week choices.

Oh – edited to add something – what a find! – several delicious illustrations from the Mary Stewart Novels BlogSpot. I found these when looking for an illustration of my particular copy’s cover; my book is who-knows-where, as I’ve been away from the computer and my desk for eight days, so I am trying to cheat on having to find it to scan it myself.


This Rough Magic Mary Stewart Illustration 1A Cover Literary Guild ReviewThis Rough Magic Mary Stewart Illustration 1This Rough Magic Mary Stewart Illustration 2This Rough Magic Mary Stewart Illustration 3

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