Of strangers and birds.
First Published: 1991
Date Reviewed: 20th September 2013
Rose, a tutor at Cambridge, wanted a holiday somewhere quiet so that she could work on her writing. Coming across an advert for a metaphorical ivory tower, she made her way up to a Scottish island. It’s peaceful, there are few residents, and the cottage is two miles walk from the village. Perfect. Until someone unlocks the back door and says that it’s their home.
Stormy Petrel is a novel that is as quiet as its heroine would have liked, whilst sporting a mini mystery. A blend of cosy mystery and straight forward travel, the book is perhaps at its best in its descriptions of Moila, the imaginary island in the Hebrides.
Because the descriptions have the ability to sweep you away. Stewarts’ creation is fantastic, and in many ways it’s a pity that Moila does not exist, even if similar places do in reality. The writing is soft, almost dreamy, and incredibly readable. The edition this reviewer read was full of editing mistakes but given the time between the first publication and our current day it is difficult to become too ‘taken’ by it.
It must be said that there is little action in the book. This is suggested by the overall set up, the length of the novel, and Stewarts’ writing style, but it is easy to let yourself get carried away – and one shouldn’t. The book lies firmly in the realm of the comfort read and provides a leisurely way to spend an afternoon. The mystery is fair enough but it does not last the length of the book, nor is it particularly satisfying.
The book is most suited to those with a love of the outdoors and nature. It will also please those who enjoy books about writers. Rose discusses her writing a lot and also delves into the process; this book presents a fantasy for anyone who enjoys writing in any way.
The outdoors is almost a character in itself. It is not personified (as some authors like to create characters from nature, houses, and so forth) but it plays perhaps the biggest role in the book. The wildlife is important, and the midges are there constantly (initially this seems over the top, but Stewart has a plan).
The major issue with the book is the use of convenience. Whilst Rose does speak of convenience in novels, the way Stewart goes on to use it as the author takes the element too far. Instead of being simply sweet, the continual use can become irritating. The lack of mystery in a book that initially promises it is not such a bad thing, but the convenience difficult to read.
Stormy Petrel is a comfy novel that is perfect for a rainy day complete with blankets and a hot cup of tea. It may be set in summer, but the weather and the setting suit a dreary autumn day well. Just don’t become too invested in the story.
September 20, 2013, 2:59 am
I read this, but I don’t remember it very well. The location and descriptions sound wonderful! It’s a bummer about the mystery aspect lacking, such a disappointment when you are expecting a good one. :(
September 20, 2013, 7:38 am
I adore Mary Stewart. Books like My Brother Michael and her arthurian saga figure among my favorites. I really like that a lot of her & Vicyoria Holt’s old books are back in print.
September 20, 2013, 11:50 am
I hadn’t realised she was still writing in 1991 (or, indeed, that she was still alive, until Anbolyn gave us her bio!). Was it set in a sort of nebulous golden age Stewart period, or could you say, ‘Oh, yes, 1990!’?
September 20, 2013, 9:06 pm
I enjoyed this and loved the Scottish setting, but I don’t think it’s one of her best. It’s definitely lacking in suspense and mystery compared to some of her other books – I can highly recommend Nine Coaches Waiting or The Moonspinners if you want to try another one.
September 21, 2013, 8:13 am
Yes, I agree with Helen about Nine Coaches Waiting or The Moonspinners – they are higher quality. Her descriptions of the landscapes are just marvelous, though, even if the plot is weak. Thank you for reading along this week!
September 21, 2013, 3:33 pm
Hmm, I’m intrigued, but after reading the comments, am wondering if I should try another book of hers first. But I like the sound of this one, especially the sort of nature-y travelogue-y sense of it…
September 22, 2013, 9:35 pm
My read for the Mary Stewart Reading Week Wildfire at Midnight was also set in Scotland, in this case on the real island of Skye. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the wildlife and landscape so sounds like I might like this novel too.
September 26, 2013, 6:12 pm
Today is the perfect day for reading a quiet book–gloomy weather, a little rain. Alas, I have to be at work so no reading for me.
I like the sound of this book, although I fear I would be disappointed in it.