Wednesday, 26 July 2000

Mary Stewart: Nine Coaches Waiting (1958)

Edition: Hodder
Review number: 551

One of Mary Stewart's best novels, Nine Coaches Waiting takes themes common to most of her stories (isolated young woman under threat has doubts about the man she falls for), but is far more tautly suspenseful than usual. This is partly because the major characters are particularly believable, and you really care what happens to the central character, governess Linda Martin, and her charge Philippe de Valmy.

The plot is simple. Linda escapes from her dreary job in an English prep school when the patron of the orphanage in which she had been brought up recommends her to a French friend to teach the orphaned Comte de Valmy English. She gains the odd impression that a lack of understanding of French is important, and conceals the fact that she was brought up in Paris during the war before her parents were killed. This turns out to be not the only strange aspect of the job, and she feels she is becoming involved in a sinister plot at the same time as she is falling in love with Philippe's cousin.

The title refers to The Revenger's Tragedy, in which a poor girl is seduced by a rich man's servant who promises her unbelievable and absurd wealth - not just one coach waiting to transport her, but nine. Linda is of course a poor woman overawed by the splendours of a noble estate, but the connections are fairly sparse. Stewart uses the quotation in a structural way, dividing the novel into "coaches" rather than parts, each having a journey as a central aspect.

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