Suggestions for Summer Reading
Review: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
Oh, think upon the pleasure of the palace:
Secured ease and state, the stirring meats,
Ready to move out of the dishes,
That e’en now quicken when they’re eaten,
Banquets abroad by torch-light, musics, sports,
Bare-headed vassals that had ne’er the fortune
To keep on their own hats but let horns [wear] ’em,
Nine coaches waiting. Hurry, hurry, hurry!
Ay, to the devil.
–“The Revenger’s Tragedy” by Cyril Tourneur
I usually find myself craving a reread of Jane Eyre about every two years (don’t judge). And each time, I finish the book wanting more… begging not to leave the beautiful 19th century Gothic world of Jane and Mr. Rochester and mad women in the attic. After satisfying my biannual thirst this summer, I stumbled upon Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, which offered the perfect anecdote to easing me out of Thornfield Hall and Ferndean Manor through an introduction to Chateau Valmy … and the mysterious de Valmy family who reside there.
I first encountered Mary Stewart’s writing as a child in A Walk in Wolf Wood, a fabulous novel concerning a sister and brother who travel back in time to 14th-century England and help rescue a kindhearted werewolf in a nail-biting narrative replete with magic. I was most gratified nearly 20 years later to discover that her adult fiction is no less captivating.
Written in 1958, this then-contemporary Gothic romance novel tells the ominous tale of a young English governess, Linda Martin, who moves to France to teach nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, heir to both title and estate and ward of his uncle, Leon de Valmy. When Philippe’s aunt traveled to England to hire an English governess for him, Linda finds herself concealing that she is, in fact, half-French, and pretends to have only a rudimentary knowledge of the language. Although the family is gracious upon her installation at Valmy, Linda perceives a threat to her charge when Philippe narrowly avoids two fatal “accidents.” The charming yet arrogant Leon, who glides noiselessly from room to room about the house in a wheelchair, does nothing to assuage her apprehension. Only his son, Raoul, seems to have the strength to stand up to the sinister master of the house, and while Linda finds herself falling for the handsome young Frenchman, she cannot untangle the web she imagines forming around her and Philippe and thus beings to suspect everyone. Mary Stewart effectively tangles romance, suspense and friendship while sparking readers’ imaginations through vivid descriptions of the French country side and intriguing characters through this narrative.
Linda often uses poetry to analyze the situations she encounters, and in keeping with this background, Stewart employs chapter epigraphs that fit the themes or actions of each chapter. Among these are lines from plays and sonnets by Shakespeare as well as quotes from Milton, Dickens, Keats, Tennyson, Donne, Blake and others, giving the book an erudite literary quality. She also links each chapter to a transportation ride of some sort, counting up the “coaches” in the titles—thus, the first chapter is “First and Second Coaches” and the last chapter “Ninth Coach.”
This was a wonderful period novel, fraught with suspense that kept me guessing, and second guessing, until the end. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, my one critique is that Linda and Raoul’s relationship felt hasty and underdeveloped, which then caused some of the sequences of events feel unlikely and, ultimately, make the conclusion less satisfying. Nonetheless, I would definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good Gothic thriller.
Buy this book here.