Okay, I know that isn’t really a word.Â Â That said, it’s the only word that can accurately describe the absolutely delicious novel that I just read.Â I’m not exaggerating here; it was the most purely enjoyable read that I’ve had since — well, probably since college.
I first heard of The Ivy Tree a year or so ago.Â I’d heard that it was a romantic suspense novel in the style of Daphne Du Maurier (of Rebecca fame), which sounded intriguing. Â I don’t usually read books in that genre; I tend more toward memoir or spiritual writing, with a gardening book or two to mix it up.Â But I was in the mood for a gripping read — the kind of book that keeps you guessing, that keeps you on edge — so I bought it.
Worth every darn penny.
The Ivy Tree was first published in 1961, and when you read it, you’ll see that it could never be written today.Â It’s a story of impersonation — a young woman named Mary Grey is persuaded to impersonate a young woman named Annabel Winslow, heir to a large farm and estate in northern England.Â Â The man who conceives of the deception is a young farmer named Con (short for Connor; deliberate pun?) who wants his great-uncle, Annabel’s grandfather, to leave the estate to him.Â Â Nowadays,Â of course, they’d never get away with it; a quick check of the Internet would blow their subterfuge to pieces.Â But when you read the book, with its lavish descriptions of the remote English countryside and its brilliant characterization and its little frisson of tension between the two leads –Â well, you get completely sucked in (especially if you are a rabid Anglophile).
I started the book on Thursday, and I finished it yesterday. That’s fast, even by my standards.Â Honestly, I couldn’t stop thinking about this book. I was sitting there at a cafÃ© on Friday, grading papers, and The Ivy Tree sat in my bookbag like some living glowing presence that I couldn’t ignore, and it was only by a supreme force of will that those essays got done.Â I don’t know squat about how to write a good suspense novel, but I sure recognize craft when I see it.Â Author Mary Stewart writes dialogue that is pregnant with meaning, and her plot twists are pretty darn brilliant.Â At times I found myself trying to “figure out” the story — I’d come up with a theory, and then not want to think about it too much, because I didn’t want to destroy my own experience of reading it.Â Fact is, though, I could never have predicted where this novel ended up going.Â And I’ve got a lot of respect for a writer who can do that.
And I adored it,Â that experience of being totally in the thrall of a good novel.Â It feels sort of like being in love: you are pleasantly obsessed, you don’t care about eating or hanging out with others, you just want to hunker down with your beloved and let the rest of the world fade away.
Have I convinced you yet?Â Read The Ivy Tree.Â You’ll be glad you did.