Rose Cottage / Mary Stewart
London : Hodder & Stoughton, 1997
This was a very enjoyable, light holiday read. I do like Mary Stewart and writers of the same ilk (ie: Susanna Kearsley, Carol Goodman, Simone St James, Barbara Michaels) So I was surprised to realize that I hadn't yet read this one, but also pleased to find that it was just the thing for my mood.
It's set in England and Scotland in 1947, where our heroine Kathy (or Kate, depending on who's asking) is a recent war widow, left rather well off financially if not emotionally. She's been living a subdued life in London, working at a plant nursery, trying to forge onwards, when her Gran gets sick and calls her to Scotland.
But while Gran is now in Scotland with The Family (she's a cook), Kathy grew up with her Gran in Rose Cottage, on the Family's estate in England. Gran wants Kathy to return to Rose Cottage and pack up her belongings to send on to Scotland, since she'll be staying there permanently. Kathy, having no other real ties, agrees, and the adventure begins.
Like many other Mary Stewart novels, there is a touch of the supernatural -- in this case, neighbour Miss Linsey who is "of middle height, middle age, medium build, but nothing else about her was medium, except perhaps in the professional sense of the word." There is mystery -- Gran's hidden safe has been broken into. There is romantic possibility, as Kathy reacquaints herself with childhood friend Davey Pascoe. There was rather more humour in this one than in many others; the final scenes made me laugh with the growing cast of characters. But it was also interesting how Stewart was able to create a suspenseful, emotional read with a plot full of ominous mystery that turns out in each case to be something very different than either Kathy or other characters had perceived it to be. It all makes sense but you simply have to trust the story.
Stewart opens strong, switching narrative focus between third person and first person in the opening pages, a clever trick that I enjoyed. She also finishes strong, with an ending that could have become unbearably treacly but wasn't at all. In between, there's friendship, beautiful scenery, nostalgia, the practicalities of living in a postwar world, humour, tea, and questions of morality and memory. As Kathy says at one point:
Why was it that one always regretted change? Things were not made to stay fixed, preserved in amber. Perhaps the only acceptable amber was memory.
This was a very solid book, and it's going to be a comfort read, I can tell that already. Thank goodness for Mary Stewart!