Lucy Waring is a twenty-five-year-old actress who, frustrated with the way her career is going, has decided to visit her sister Phyllida in Corfu. Phyllida and her husband own a large estate which consists of the beautiful, crumbling Castello dei Fiori and two smaller villas. Lucy joins her sister at one of the villas while the other is occupied by the photographer Godfrey Manning, who is working on a new book about Corfu. The old Castello in the middle is being rented by a retired actor, Sir Julian Gale, and his son, Max. Lucy is intrigued to hear of the Gales’ presence as it gives her an opportunity to discover why Sir Julian has left the acting world under such mysterious circumstances.
It quickly becomes obvious that this is not going to be the relaxing break Lucy had planned. Soon after her arrival in Corfu she learns that a local boy, Spiro – who happens to be Julian Gale’s godchild – has fallen overboard and is presumed drowned during a boat trip with Godfrey Manning. When a second fisherman is found dead, Lucy is sure there must be a connection between both accidents…but what is it?
This Rough Magic has everything I’ve come to expect from a Mary Stewart novel – mystery, suspense, romance and a lovely, atmospheric setting. Whenever I start reading one of Stewart’s books I look forward to her beautiful, evocative descriptions of whichever location she is writing about, whether it’s an English country house, a chateau in the Haute-Savoie region of France or a palace in a valley in Damascus. With its Corfu setting, this book had a similar feel to The Moonspinners which is set on another Greek island, Crete. I haven’t been to Corfu but reading This Rough Magic made me want to book a flight there immediately, though maybe I would also need to book a trip in a time machine to be able to experience the island exactly as it was when Lucy was there in 1964.
There were some great characters in this novel and my favourite was Sir Julian Gale. He felt so believable I kept wondering if he was based on a real actor and if so which one. Our narrator, Lucy, is a typical Mary Stewart heroine – intelligent, quick-thinking, courageous and down-to-earth, but also very easy to like. She’s also an animal lover and there are some wonderful scenes involving a dolphin who becomes one of the most important characters in the book!
Stewart’s novels always include a lot of literary allusions and references and this book is no exception. It has been suggested that Shakespeare based the island in The Tempest on Corfu and this is a theme that runs right through the novel, with Tempest quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Even the title of the novel, This Rough Magic, is a line from the play (“this rough magic I here abjure”, spoken by Prospero before announcing that he intends to break his magic staff and drown his book of magic in the sea). Luckily I have read The Tempest otherwise none of this would have meant very much to me. I don’t think it’s really necessary to have read it but it definitely adds something to the story and I was fascinated by Julian Gale’s conversation with Lucy when he explains why he believes Corfu to be Prospero’s island.
Anbolyn is hosting a Mary Stewart Reading Week in September so whether you’re already a Mary Stewart fan or whether you have yet to try one of her novels, I hope you’ll consider joining in.