Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Moonspinners

The Moonspinners
by Mary Stewart

Publisher's Blurb:
Impetuous and attractive, Nicola Ferris has just arrived in Crete for a holiday when she sees an egret fly out of a lemon grove. On impulse, she follows the bird’s path into the White Mountains. There she discovers a young Englishman who, hiding out in the hills and less than pleased to have been discovered, sends Nicola packing with the order to keep out of his affairs. This, of course, Nicola is unable to do, and before long events lead to a stunning climax among the fishing boats of Agios Georgios Bay.

My Reaction:
I enjoyed it!  Classic escapism set in a more innocent time.  I'd recommend it to other fans of light suspense (with an even lighter element of romance).

Specific Tidbits (with SPOILERS): 
--  I didn't realize this was set in Greece until I started reading it (yeah, I don't always read blurbs if I'm familiar with the author), and I have to admit that I was a little bit skeptical at first, but Stewart seems to be a master of settings.  As in Nine Coaches Waiting, she sets a scene so appealing and right that you can't help but be tantalized.  It's almost as good as visiting in person.  (And I'm not one who usually idealizes the generic Mediterranean-- too dry, too hot-- so this is a feat.  ;o))

--  "They were both lavish with that warm, extroverted, and slightly naive kindliness which seems a specifically American virtue."  Well, I guess there are worse ways to be stereotyped.  (g)  I don't think I qualify as particularly "American" in this way, though.  Not that warm, I'm afraid-- or at least I don't feel that I project warmth all the time, especially outside my very, very limited inner circle... Which may include only Donald and the dogs? :o/  Definitely not extroverted.  Naively kindly?  I'm not sure about that one, but probably not...

--  "'The accommodation's very simple, but it's perfectly clean, and-- wait for it-- the food is excellent.'"  Huh.  Did people say "wait for it" like this in the 1960s?  I didn't realize it went back that far-- thought it was more of a modern annoyance...

--  "Outside the better hotels and the more expensive restaurants, food in Greece-- even the voice of love has to confess it-- is seldom excellent.  It tends to a certain monotony, and it knows no variation of hot and cold; all is lukewarm.  Yet here was a Dane, a well-rounded, well-found Dane (and the Danes have possibly the best food in Europe), recommending the food in a Greek village taverna."  Always interesting to read these little tidbits.  I wonder how biased they are, though, because I was under the impression that British cuisine wasn't much to brag about, itself... Of course, I'm no judge of "sophisticated" food.  I know if something tastes good to me, or not... and that's about it.

--  The book overflows with flowers and trees.  Judas-trees.  Rock-roses.  Tamarisk trees.  Ice-daisies.  Pellitory-of-the-wall.  Iris.  Anemones.  All the scented herbs-- like verbena.  Dittany.  Marjoram.  Lemon trees.  It sounds beautiful.

-- Interesting that (very briefly) the heroine pretends not to understand Greek.  Same thing happened (but for a longer time) in Nine Coaches Waiting-- though of course in that case the heroine was pretending ignorance of French.

--  The story behind the title was unexpected.  I'm not sure what I thought the name would be based on, but not that.  I wonder if it's a real legend or if the author just made it up...  The imagery of spun moonlight was interesting (maybe especially to someone whose current "hobbies of choice" are crochet and knitting). 

--  "I hesitated, then, with a hazy memory of some adventure novel I had read, bent down and sniffed at the wound."  Simultaneously funny and gross.

--  Lammergeier.  I'd never heard of it before.  A striking bird-- and yes, much more attractive than our ugly vultures.  When we were in Sweden this summer, we happened to discuss whether or not vultures live there.  Donald said they don't, but apparently vultures do live in southern Europe.  I wonder where and why their range ends.  I have no idea if the vultures we have around here can survive in the northern U.S. or Canada... (Looked it up.  Some of them can live further north during the summer only.)

--  I'm still a little confused by Tony's reference to "the dear old Vicarage"-- having to settle so far from it out of consideration for his health.  Since it was capitalized, I assumed that it was some sort of pet name for England.  Later on, however, Nicola refers to Tony's father as "the Vicar" (again with a capital V!), and Tony is obviously caught off guard, then seems to try to cover it up (because his father is not really a vicar, obviously).  Or is his confusion due to the fact that he's forgotten his earlier reference to the "Vicarage"?  So... Is "the dear old Vicarage" an accepted (maybe old-fashioned) nickname for England-- or not? 

--  Tony seems a bit fey.  Always calling people "dear".  Thin and light on his feet, with an eye for decor.  "Tony came running down the steps to meet us, as lightly as something out of the chorus of The Sleeping Beauty."  Rather stereotypical.  And then Frances starts calling him Little Lord Fauntleroy!  Ha!  Then she says, "'He looks a pretty urban type to settle here, even for a short spell... unless the beaux yeux of the owner have got something to do with it.  He came with him from London, didn't he?'"  Yes, exactly what I was thinking, Frances.  And yet, at the end, Tony leaves a message for Nicola in which he remarks favorably on the tight-fitting pants-- excuse me, "trousers"-- she has borrowed from young Colin!  Flirting or strictly "you go, girl!"-style fashion commentary?  ("You look fabulous, dahling!")

--  "'Here, life is simple, and hard, especially for women.  I had forgotten, in the time I have been away.  One forgets that these women accept it... And if one of them is fool enough to marry a Mussulman, who uses his religion as an excuse for..."  ...Interesting.  This type of comment would be unacceptable in the eyes of many modern writers (and readers).

--  The description of "light-fishing" was interesting.  I wonder how similar that is the the "gigging" that people around here sometimes do. ""Nice and primitive, eh?  But terrific sport-- like all primitive pastimes.'" 

--  When neither Frances nor Nicola knows how to drive the boat:  "'Let's face it, this is one of the occasions where being a woman has its limitations.'" ...and... "'I'm sorry, but we'll have to accept our female limitations and wait till morning.'"  Female limitations?  More like the limitations of anyone who doesn't know how to drive a boat.  Men aren't born knowing how to maneuver water-craft, either.

--  Despite a couple of objectionable "only women" moments, like the one above, most of the time, the heroine is delightfully self-reliant and reasonably intelligent.  It makes a nice change of pace from the slow-witted, too-thick-headed-to-be-true fictional creatures you so often come across in books.  

--  Rexine?  It's a British word, apparently.  "A strong coated cloth usually imitating leather and used especially for bookbinding." (I get the vague impression that I may have come across this word before-- possibly in the only other book of this author's that I've read.  I guess I didn't catalog it properly in the old noodle.)

--  A couple of times, I was struck by a reference to something that happened "yesterday"-- stopped reading-- and thought to myself, "That happened only yesterday?!" This is one of those cases where the entire book takes place over a relatively brief span of time.  Two days?  Maybe three?  

--  At one point, Mark protests that Nicola should drink the rest of the wine: "'No, really, I'm getting almost used to water.'"   Such hardship!  What a hero!  Which brings me to the fact that...

--  ...I prefer Lambis.  I really wish Nicola would've "ended up" with Lambis instead of Mark.  I mean, I didn't expect it to happen.  At a certain point, it's very clear that Lambis is a background "local color" character, and we're supposed to sympathize with Nicola's infatuation with Mark.  ...But... Mark is kind of boring and "typical".  :o/  Meh.  He's ok, but Lambis would've been a more interesting choice.  I mean, really!  Why would a young Englishwoman go to all the trouble of living and working and vacationing in Greece if she's just going to settle down with the first wounded Englishman she stumbles upon in the wilds of Crete?  Snooze!

--  Mark quotes a line of Keats and Colin grins at Lambis' puzzled look.  "'Don't listen to Mark.  That was just Keats.  Go on, Lambis, this one's a classic, say "What are Keats?"'"  

--  "'That's the difference between the fleshpots of Soho and the empty fish-nets of Agios Georgios, dear.'"  Which reminds me:  "Fleshpots"-- what a disgusting-sounding word. 

--  Poor Sofia:  "Her face looked like yellowed wax smeared thinly over a skull, all teeth and eye-sockets."  Good grief.  At first, I wondered if Sophia was supposed to be ill, but I guess not... She was just malnourished and had had a particularly difficult life.  

--  The "insta-love"-- what a great, descriptive term, by the way-- between Mark and Nicola is a bit of a stretch (especially since they spend so little time together) but I've seen worse.  At least there was no hanky panky on Mark's sickbed two hours after their first meeting.  (g)

--  A bit annoying that Tony gets away scot-free... But I guess he wasn't a serious villain-- and, well, actually, it's much more interesting that he does get away.  He certainly seems like the type of person who is always looking out for Number One.  I can definitely buy it that he was smart and sneaky enough to get away with some of the loot.  

--  "It seemed obvious that the actual acts of violence which Stratos had committed meant little, in themselves, to these men, and it might have gone differently with us if we had killed Stratos himself, whatever he had done in the course of his own private feud.  But the death of Josef the Turk-- and a Turk from Chania, at that-- was (one gathered) quite a different thing.  And in the matter of poor Sofia Alexiaki, who would have enough to bear when her brother's story came to light, it could be seen as the mercy of heaven that now, at last, as a widow, she could once more be a free woman, and a Christian.  She could even-- Christ be praised-- make her Communion this very Easter Sunday..."

--  Mark tells Nicola that Frances threw a rock at Stratos during the dramatic scene near the end of the book. "'Did she?  Good for her!  Did she hit him?'  'Did you ever know a female hit anything?  That she aimed at, I mean?  She hit me,' said Mark."  Oh, that Mark!  He's so dreamy!  Ugh, shut up, Mark.  

--  Kara Bugaz:  A lagoon of the Caspian Sea, in the northwestern corner of Turkmenistan.  It has a salinity of approximately 35%, which is about the same as that of the Dead Sea, based on what I've just read.  I wonder why Tony chose that particular spot to mention as his (supposed) destination...  Definitely an exotic location!

-- There was a Disney film adaptation (starring Hayley Mills) that came out soon after the book was published.  I'll have to see if I can manage to watch it, now, out of pure curiosity.  I don't expect it to be quite as good as the book, though.