Sunday, January 25, 2015

This Rough Magic

This Rough Magic
by Mary Stewart

When Lucy Waring's sister Phyllida suggests that she join her for a quiet holiday on the island of Corfu, young English Lucy is overjoyed. Her work as an actress has temporarily come to a halt. She believes there is no finer place to be "at liberty" than the sun-drenched isle of Corfu, the alleged locale for Shakespeare's The Tempest. Even the suspicious actions of the handsome, arrogant son of a famous actor cannot dampen her enthusiasm for this wonderland in the Ionian Sea.

But the peaceful idyll does not last long. A series of incidents, seemingly unconnected - but all surrounded in mystery - throws Lucy's life into a dangerous spin, as fear, danger and death - as well as romance - supplant the former tranquility. Then a human corpse is carried ashore on the incoming tide... And without warning, she found she had stumbled into a nightmare of strange violence, stalked by shadows of terror and sudden death.

My Reaction:
This was a good, solid read in the Mary Stewart style.  Intrigue in an exotic locale.  Escapism at its finest.  Since I've never read The Tempest and am not in any case Shakespeare's greatest admirer (blasphemy though it might seem to some), that aspect of the book was probably mostly lost on me.  Also, the "action sequences" toward the end were perhaps a bit much for my tastes-- but on the whole, I enjoyed the book.  It doesn't come up to quite the level of Nine Coaches Waiting, but it's fine for light suspense with a 60's vibe.

Tidbits (with SPOILERS):
-- When I read about the "Japanese miniature oranges called koùm koyàt", I wondered if they might be the same thing as kumquats, and apparently they are.  My maternal grandfather has a small tree of kumquats, so that was an interesting tidbit.  I guess they are adaptable, because our climate isn't quite Mediterranean-- much more humid than that, with torrential summer thunderstorms. (For that matter, I doubt their native climate is very Mediterranean, either.)  Calling them "miniature oranges" seems a bit too generous, though.  "Our" kumquats, at least, are not nearly as sweet and delicious as oranges, imho.  Greatly inferior to the satsumas that we can also grow here. 

--  Lucy describes Miranda on their first meeting: "She eyed me curiously, with that unabashed stare of the Greeks which one learns to get used to, as it is virtually impossible to stare it down in return."  It doesn't sound very comfortable... I wonder if that's still (or ever was) an accurate portrayal.  I'd say that (in many places) social behaviors have changed a lot since the mid-1960s. 

--  "...hat to meet him at some polite bun fight of Phyllida's..."  Bun fight?  That's a new one! 

--  It was a bit of a shock when the pregnant Phyllida says she'll have a drink (of alcohol), adding that "Caliban" (her pet name for the unborn infant) will "have to lump it, for once".  I guess that in the mid-60s they knew it was bad for pregnant women to drink alcohol, but not how bad...?  Or do we almost take it too far, these days?  Because it seems unthinkable to me that a responsible expectant mother of today would ever have alcohol-- not even once.  Maybe I'm being naive, but it felt out of character for an educated woman who purportedly loves her children and wants the next one to come into the world as healthy as possible. 

--  The discussion of antique roses-- right after reading Barbara Michaels' Vanish with the Rose-- was interesting.

--  "Beach coat".  Is that more of a British and/or European thing?  I've never heard of people around here using a beach coat.  Maybe some sort of cover to protect you from the sun when you aren't in the water, but not specifically a "beach coat".

--  It was obvious from her first meeting with Godfrey that he was the Bad Guy, but uncertainty over what he was doing and why kept my interest up.  I'm still not sure I know why he was shooting at the dolphin, though.  To get rid of sight-seers?  Or just for the heck of it?

-- Similarly, as soon as the dolphin came into the story, I could picture him saving Lucy from drowning, and sure enough...

--  Sometimes I question the presentation of the Greek characters.  They're all good, honest people who take hospitality to an extreme.  That sounds like a nice treatment of them-- yet most of them seem to tend toward naivety and feel like uneducated peasants who somehow look up to the English people around them...  How much of that is simply putting any guest on a pedestal, I couldn't say.  They refer to Lucy as "Miss Lucy"-- even the ones that aren't necessarily servants.  (Unless I'm remembering incorrectly...)  It's just... a little awkward to me.  But it may be perfectly accurate for the time, for all I know!

--  Lucy tells Miranda about rescuing the beached dolphin.  "The strangest thing to her Greek mind was, I could see, that anyone should have gone to that amount of trouble."

--  "The Greek mind again: if a man chose to get drunk now and again, what did it matter except to himself?  His women would accept it as they accepted all else.  Life here had its shining simplicities."

--  "I looked at him meltingly through my lashes-- at least, that's what I tried to do, but I shall never believe the romantic novelists again; it's a physical impossibility."

--  It struck me as rather amusing that Godfrey named his boat after a famous satanist.  I had a laugh over that!

--  The last bit of the book is a bit too "action-heavy" for my tastes.  For goodness' sake, there's an exploding boat.  It was a little much.

--  Hectic ending aside, it was an enjoyable tale.