This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

This Rough Magic 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.

24 thoughts on “This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

  1. TipiTopi says:

    I just ordered The Ivy Tree, and I’m looking forward to read it. This will be my first Mary Stewart book. Her other books are on my waiting list. I enjoyed your post.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    This Rough Magic is my favorite Mary Stewart! Every time I think about this book I want to move to Corfu, but you’re right — I would probably have to move there in 1964.

  3. Lisa says:

    I have a copy of this one but haven’t read it yet – so I’m making a note to come back later & read your review, even though you’re so good about spoilers.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve done my best not to spoil anything but I can understand wanting to go into Mary Stewart’s books knowing as little as possible. I hope you enjoy this one!

  4. Jo says:

    Helen, thank you for introducing me to Mary Stewart last year. I am certainly going to give this one a go and join in the reading week too!

    • Helen says:

      This would be a good one to read for the reading week – though I’ve enjoyed all of her books that I’ve read so far, apart from maybe Rose Cottage.

  5. Juniper Green says:

    Sounds like a great read. I haven’t read anything by Mary Stewart yet but now I’m eager to try out her novels. I’ll make a note of this one.

    Cheers, June 🙂

  6. Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp) says:

    This is the only one of the novels set in Greece that I haven’t read. It might be my choice for the reading week next month … or I might go in a different direction. I also love her descriptions of the landscape and her literary allusions.

    • Helen says:

      I’m looking forward to your reading week, Anbolyn. I haven’t decided which book I’m going to read yet, but I have plenty to choose from. Of the novels set in Greece I still haven’t read My Brother Michael, so that would be an option.

  7. Charlie says:

    I’m joining Anbolyn’s week, too, so I read your review in earnest (still got to choose my book). I love the sound of the atmosphere in this, it’s got me in mind of how appealing the setting of Greek islands can be. I can see myself choosing it if September is rainy!

  8. margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide says:

    I love Mary Stewart too, for exactly the same reason as you, Helen – the atmospheric writing / description – I’m a sucker for atmosphere. I’d never heard of Rose Cottage though – would be interested to hear other’s thoughts on that one.

    • Helen says:

      I was disappointed with Rose Cottage because it was such a gentle book, with none of the suspense and atmosphere I’ve loved in most of Mary Stewart’s others. That’s just my opinion, though, and I’m sure other readers will have enjoyed that one more than I did.

      • margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide says:

        Hmm, I could cope without the suspense (possibly) but not without atmosphere… maybe I’ll re-read some of the ones I have.

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