When I heard the sad news of Mary Stewart’s death recently I wanted to read one of her books as a tribute. There are still quite a few that I haven’t read and I decided on this one, her debut novel from 1955. It was a great choice because I loved it.
The novel is narrated by Charity Selborne, a young widow on holiday in the south of France with her best friend, Louise, an art teacher. Settling into their hotel, they get to know the other guests, including David, a thirteen-year-old boy from England, and his beautiful French stepmother. When Charity hears that David’s father, Richard Byron, has recently been acquitted of murder and could be in France at this moment searching for his son, she grows worried for the boy’s safety…but her efforts to protect David mean that she herself becomes Richard’s next target.
There’s a lot more to the story than that, but I really don’t want to say much more about it because this is one of Mary Stewart’s most exciting and suspenseful novels and I would like everyone to be as enthralled by the twists and turns of the plot as I was. All I will say is that this book contains one of my favourite sequences in all of the Stewart novels I’ve read – a thrilling car chase in which Charity is pursued across the French countryside (in a chapter appropriately titled Exit, pursued by a Bear – another thing I love about Mary Stewart is the way she works so many literary and mythological references into her writing).
This book is very dated now and definitely feels like one that was written in the 1950s, but I think that just adds to its charm. There are also lots of stunning descriptions of Avignon, Nîmes, Marseilles and all the other places Charity’s adventures take her to (I was pleased to see that her visit to Marseilles included a trip to the Chateau d’If, made famous by Alexandre Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo). I particularly loved this description of Charity watching the sun rise above the remote village of Les Baux:
“How long I sat out there, in a coign of carved stone and rough rock, I do not know. Long enough, I suppose, for my vigil did at length bring in the dawn. I saw the first light, forerunning the sun, gather in a cup of the eastern cloud, gather and grow and brim, till at last it spilled like milk over the golden lip, to smear the dark face of heaven from end to end. From east to north, and back to south again, the clouds slackened, the stars, trembling on the verge of extinction, guttered in the dawn wind and the gates of day were ready to open at the trumpet…”
Since discovering Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels three years ago I have been hoping to find another one to match the brilliance of the first one I read, Nine Coaches Waiting. Now that I’ve read eight more of her books, I think Nine Coaches will always be my favourite, but Madam, Will You Talk? has come very close!
I think Anbolyn is hosting another Mary Stewart Reading Week in September, so whether you’re already a Stewart fan or whether you have yet to try any of her books, I hope you’ll consider joining in. I have Wildfire at Midnight, Thunder on the Right, My Brother Michael and Airs Above the Ground still to read, but maybe it’s time I tried her Merlin series which I’ve heard so much about. What do you think?
23 thoughts on “Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart”
I am pleased to hear you enjoyed this one Helen. I am really looking forward to Anbolyn’s Mary Stewart Reading Week in September. Last year I read my first Stewart novel Wildfire at Midnight which I really enjoyed. I still have The Gabriel Hounds and Airs Above the Ground to read off my to-be-read pile. I am also intrigued about her Merlin series.
I loved The Gabriel Hounds but haven’t read Airs Above the Ground yet. Maybe I’ll choose that one for the Reading Week, unless I decide to try the Merlin books instead.
Thanks for this review. I’m not as far into her books as you are, but for my money My Brother Michael is the best I’ve read so far, so I’d start there.
I’ve read some great reviews of My Brother Michael and really like the sound of it. I’m looking forward to all of the Mary Stewart books I haven’t read yet!
My Brother Michael is excellent; but This Rough Magic and The Ivy Tree will always be my favorites, for very different reasons.
Regarding the Merlin tetralogy (which was only a duo when I first read it): Very good. Not perfect, and perhaps I benefitted from being rather young then, and not as critical as I grew to be later. But quite good, even now. When I read The Wicked Day, it was the first time I ever read a book where all of our protagonists were actually trying to be good (forget Mordred as villain), but the tragic ending happened anyway. I have read more since, but for many years, it was the essence of moira, fate, and pure Greek-style tragedy. I do not believe in fate, mind you, but it makes for fabulous drama.
I have similar feelings toward T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, which I guess covers similar ground.
I loved This Rough Magic but not so much The Ivy Tree, though I know it’s a favourite of many Mary Stewart readers. I’m looking forward to trying the Merlin books – I have a feeling they could be books that I would have enjoyed more if I’d read them when I was younger, as you did, but I hope I can still enjoy them now.
This was my introduction to her suspense novels, and I could hardly read it fast enough. I’m looking forward to the reading week as well – I still have a few of her books on the TBR shelves. I have to put in a vote for the Merlin series, even though I haven’t read the later books myself yet.
I hope you enjoy whichever book you pick for the reading week. It was your reviews of the Merlin books that made me want to read them!
I am definitely joining in with this in September. Though not sure which book to read. It is down to you that I discovered Mary Stewart, thank you!
I’ll be interested to see which one you read. You can’t really go wrong with any of them.
I read the Merlin books in my teens (like many other people, I think!) but I’ve yet to try her other novels. I *do* have a rather big pile of them on my shelf however, so I may well join in in September – and I rather think I’d like to start with this one. Lovely review!
This could be a good one to start with as it was her first novel, but really they’re all great! I wish I had read her Merlin books as a teenager, but I’m hoping I can still enjoy them as an adult.
I loved this one too. I have Airs Above the Ground lined up for September, and I’d recommend My Brother Michael as my second favourite to date, a little way behind Nine Coaches Waiting.
I’m definitely leaning towards either My Brother Michael or The Crystal Cave for the reading week…though I am tempted by Airs Above the Ground as well!
Yes, the reading week is still on for September 14-21, thanks for mentioning it! This is my second favorite of her novels I’ve read. I love the so very vintage feel of it and the setting is wonderful. My Brother Michael is also very good. I’m not sure what I’ll read in September – it will be Airs Above the Ground, The Ivy Tree or Rose Cottage, or maybe all three!
I loved the vintage feel of this book too. Glad to hear the reading week is still on!
I’m always taken by surprise when someone writes about Mary Stewart in relation to anything other than her Arthur novels, because those are the only ones I’ve read. I keep saying it, but I really do have to read something else by her. Maybe a dedicated week will help me to get my act together.
She does seem to be much more well known for her Arthurian novels, despite only writing a few of those and about fifteen of the suspense novels!
I am so excited to hear that you enjoyed Nine Coaches Waiting so much as I just started it today 🙂 I have only read This Rough Magic by her but I really enjoyed it. I cannot wait to really dive into Nine Coaches. Now I want to read this one as well. Great review!
I hope you enjoy Nine Coaches Waiting as much as I did. This Rough Magic is another of my favourites. I loved the Greek setting – and the dolphin!