Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree (1961) – another review

Book review by Alice C: A strange, unexpected tale. Unexpected in that I’d never read any Mary Stewart before and I’d expected a rural love story (boring) but instead I got a Russian Doll of twists and turns, plots within plots, mistaken identity, impersonation, attempted murder, death by horse and beyond..

But did I enjoy it? Yes, in that it kept me turning the pages, but as you may imagine from the machinations described above I got a bit confused and in the end didn’t care who was who and who knew what at what point in the story. I’m sure it was expertly plotted by Mary Stewart but after a while I gave up on trying to follow the thread. Nothing would have surprised me and the rather lame ending didn’t.

I bristled at the pronouncements of some characters about their stupidity and inanity as women – that thread runs through the book – women often portrayed as more valuable when ‘rational’ – i.e. thinking like a man. But hey, this is a book of its time.

I did like the beautiful descriptions of nature: the flowers, trees and of the ivy tree itself, its presence a constant metaphor for old secrets, choking the life out of living things then for decay, destruction, new growth and new life.

Somnolent – I could smell the hay, lie down in those meadows, hear the gentle buzz of the bees above my head. In these days when we are encouraged to picture a peaceful place to which we can imaginatively retreat, this book provides it. An anecdote to my Covid 19-ridden anxiety and a complete contrast to the dystopian novels I’m currently reading for our next topic.

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