Wednesday, 16 February 2000

Mary Stewart: Madam, Will You Talk (1955)

Edition: Coronet, 1981
Review number: 438

Mary Stewart's first novel sets out the territory that she has occupied ever since when writing her thrillers. A romantic plot, with the heroine playing the major role - and a non-passive one; misunderstandings about the role of the hero, a beautiful setting. Her most innovative aspect is the use she makes of the heroine. Charity Selborne is not the shrinking violet of male thriller writers; she is an expert racing driver, a fighter, and the catalyst of the whole plot, which is told from her point of view.

Taking a holiday in the south of France, she is charmed by a boy staying at the same hotel and repelled by his beautiful mother. She is told that they are hiding from the boy's father, a murderer who escaped justice (insufficient evidence). Then, on a day trip to Nimes, she meets David's father, who has been searching for him, and falls for him despite what she thinks she knows about him.

Such a romantic plot seems intrinsically improbable, yet Stewart works hard to reduce the occurrence of unmotivated coincidence. (She meets the father; this isn't coincidence because he's looking for the son who's staying at her hotel.) It is not surprising that Madam, Will You Talk marks the beginning of such a successful career.

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