Saturday, August 09, 2014


The Ivy Tree, Mary Stewart, William Morrow & Company, 1961, 320 pp

This was Mary Stewart's sixth novel, but the fourth I have read. I skipped her first two. I had some problems reading it.

I started the book soon after I got home from the hospital in May. (And I promise, this is the last book connected with my illness, so I shall say no more about that after this.) My concentration was very poor and I could not figure out what was going on in the story. My attention would wander after a few paragraphs so I gave up.

Then by chance I discovered Mary Stewart had died on May 9, at the age of 97, peacefully in her bed, at home in Scotland. I'm sure there is no connection but it was a bit creepy because May 9 was the day I got sick. In reading her obituaries in the British papers, I learned all kinds of interesting facts about her life. I also read a rare interview she gave in 1989 and gained more insight into her writing.

So I decided to begin again with The Ivy Tree in July and made it to the end in just a few days but still did not like it much. As was usual for her at that point in her career, it is a romance though you don't learn about the love story connected with the main character until the latter part of the book. At first it seems to be almost crime fiction as a man, his sister and the main character collude in a plot to inherit a dying man's property. For sure there is a mystery surrounding the female main character.

What I think is that Mary Stewart decided to up her game and write a more literary book than her previous mystery/romances. She about doubled the amount of words describing the surroundings compared to those earlier books. While it is consummate descriptive writing, it kept interrupting the flow of the plot. Her efforts did not all work together smoothly and she lost the page-turning knack she'd had. Her signature final plot twist was still there however!

After reading the above mentioned interview, I knew that she was not a person to rest on her laurels and she never followed the advice of her publisher as to what she ought to write. I have to admire that. I wonder what she will do next.

(The Ivy Tree is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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