Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Throwback Thursday: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

When Starz began airing their new Camelot show, I got a little Arthurian obsessed. Thing is, I wasn't a big fan of the show. Ages ago (high school), I found a stash of King Arthur books in my grandmother's collection. And since I was working at the bookstore at the time, I knew that Mary Stewart's books were among some of the most popular Arthurian books out there. Who knows how many editions have been released between the ones on my grandmother's shelves (her Crystal Cave is a 1971 Fawcett Crest mass market that retailed at $1.75) and the ones that always made it to the school reading tables each summer.

But, this is not a King Arthur post. Nope. Along with the Merlin series, my grandmother had a whole collection of Mary Stewart titles. A search revealed a bevy of these gems with deliciously gothic and creepy covers -- many of which are still in print today. Fortunately, mom sent over the whole Stewart set because I've got the gothic bug ever since my Jane Eyre evening and Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern.

The story concerns one Charity Selborne, an English widow on holiday in Provence. At her hotel, she runs into a young boy whose father is later revealed to be a murderer on the run. Charity feels sorry for the boy and takes him under her wing, offering to let him tag along as she sees the sites of Provence. But the boy's father has yet to be apprehended and was recently spotted nearby. Then Charity meets him herself. A dangerous cat and mouse game in Provence!

I love the language in these books. The deliberate pacing and the gorgeous way things are described. I hate to use the word organic, but it is a natural flow that authors I enjoy have with their prose. Nothing feels forced or unnecessary. In the gothic genre in particular, it makes the whole reading experience truly wonderful. As I write this, we are in the midst of summer: sweaty days in which I can take my book outside and read in the sun and enjoy that growing sense of dread and prickling of goosebumps. Second only to a dreary and rainy days filled with lightning storms in terms of perfect reading weather.

Madam, Will You Talk? was originally published in 1955 and marked Stewart's debut on the literary scene. An interesting piece I found in the Time archives from 1971 notes that Stewart was among the most popular gothic authors at the time (check out the final lines of the article -- note the similarities between that and today's chick-lit arguments!).

Stewart, who is now 94, published her last book, Rose Cottage, in 1997.

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