Mary Stewart is another one of the many authors who I've discovered as a direct result of recommendations from other book bloggers. Stewart is a mid-century British author whose writing seems to have a lot in common with Daphne du Maurier's--elements of suspense and romance mixed with touches of Gothic mystery and the supernatural. I've long been eager to give her work a try and finally did with The Ivy Tree.
The heroine of the novel is Mary Grey, a Canadian expatriate struggling to make ends meet in England. During an unexpected encounter, she's mistaken for Annabel Winslow, who, although missing and presumed dead for the past eight years, remains the sole heiress to a local farm. What at first seems to be a random encounter takes an even stranger turn when Con Winslow, Annabel's cousin, begins to urge Mary to pose as Annabel and try to sway their grandfather to revise his will in Con's favor. With no family behind her in Canada and a dull future as a waitress ahead of her, Annabel's initial reservations soon give way and she agrees to take part in the scheme. She seamlessly steps into the role of Annabel but soon finds herself faced with complications that take a darker than expected turn.
I had a hard time fully engaging with The Ivy Tree and--as isn't always the case--I can pinpoint two very specific reasons why. First, Stewart devotes a lot of time to descriptions of scenery and landscapes. While these do paint a lush picture of the setting, I've come to realize that these kind of descriptions just don't do much for me in any book, especially when they go on for pages at a time. I would much rather get back to the plot and the characters than get lost in the contemplation of rolling country hills. The second thing that tripped me up was overly quaint terms of endearment that were tacked on to a lot of the dialogue. Characters were often saying things like, "Listen to me, my dear" or "I'll be back in two minutes, my darling", which made the dialogue sound somewhat affected.
Although I felt like these issues dampened my enjoyment of much of the The Ivy Tree, things did pick up about two-thirds of the way through when the novel's twist quietly presents itself and reveals that the narrator has been unreliable to the extreme. A narrator who lies to the reader is always an interesting idea, and here I think it's actually made even more intriguing by being juxtaposed against some of the elements of Stewart's writing that I wasn't as crazy about. It hints that there's more to her work than might first meet the eye. That, combined with the fact that so many others whose literary opinions I trust enjoy her work, has me looking forward to trying more of Stewart's work even though I didn't completely love this one.