Today is the big day. At long (long) last, Mary Stewart’s The Wind off the Small Isles and ‘The Lost One’ are available to purchase for the very first time, together, as a paperback. The snappy title for these two stories is… The Wind Off the Small Isles and The Lost One.
I am delighted by this publication, not least because I was able to point out the existence of ‘The Lost One’ to Hodder (see my blogpost Re-issue of The Wind Off the Small Isles for more on my long acquaintance with ‘The Lost One’, including correspondence with Mary Stewart). The team at Hodder are due well-deserved thanks for getting ‘The Lost One’ published alongside The Wind Off the Small Isles.
For those of you who have not heard of this book, it is composed of two stories featuring a narrator called Perdita. Preceding these stories is a foreword by Jennifer Ogden, Mary Stewart’s niece, which was also included in the hardback release of The Wind Off the Small Isles last autumn. Then we have the novella The Wind Off the Small Isles, which was first published in 1968 and is set on the Atlantic Ocean island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands: the story weaves two love stories and two sets of events almost a century apart, is exquisitely written, and the alien Lanzarote landscape is vividly described. Mary Stewart’s depictions of setting are, rightly, celebrated for their authenticity and lyricism and this is true here for ‘the strange, windy landscape of Lanzarote’. Small Isles is a beautiful, concise example of Mary Stewart’s writing and it includes another of her trademark ingredients, suspense by the lorry-load. If you enjoy tension and cliff-hangers, you really need to read Mary Stewart, queen of suspense.
Lanzarote, via Getty Images:
‘The Lost One’ follows on from Small Isles after a brief half-page introduction which explains that this is the first publication in book form of ‘The Lost One’, and that it was first published in 1960 in Woman’s Journal. We are told that we have ‘the same young heroine named Perdita, who brings no less amount of pluck and courage to this classic Mary Stewart tale of suspense and intrigue’.
This story is even shorter than Small Isles (45 pages against 68 pages long) yet it remains an excellent example of Mary Stewart’s writing. ‘The Lost One’ was written eight years before Perdita’s Lanzarote adventure but should not be understood as having been written in real time: Perdita is 23 years old in Small Isles but cannot have been 15 in ‘The Lost One’ as, for example, the story begins with her driving a car. She sets out from Newcastle with her mother one evening, heading for the Lake District, but trouble ensues after the car breaks down on a remote hillside in Cumbria. As any Mary Stewart reader would hope, the story is chock-full of suspense and danger; the writer’s love of animals shines through; the bleak, hilly setting is beautifully drawn; and there is also a great deal of humour in the story.
What makes ‘The Lost One’ different from other Mary Stewart suspense writing is that there is no romance at all – perhaps because the writer had further adventures in mind for Perdita even in 1960. I was slightly surprised by this when I first read the story in Woman’s Journal as I had assumed that a touch of romance might be mandatory in women’s magazines of this time. But please believe me that there is nothing ‘lacking’ in ‘The Lost One’: I think it is a really exciting, enjoyable read that shows off Mary Stewart’s ability to write a compelling story in very few words.
Incidentally, I am interested to see that Mary Stewart’s publisher, Hodder, has not gone with the version of the story that appeared in Woman’s Journal, which must have been cropped a little for space: this paperback version of Perdita’s story is slightly fuller. Here is one short example:
‘I’m sorry. But you can’t have known how desperately appropriate my name was going to be! Perdita, the lost one… I’m sure it’ll come true just once too often! No, no, I believe you, really I do!’
Woman’s Journal version of ‘The Lost One’
‘I’m sorry. But four times out of five when we’re out together… When you had me christened, did you know how beautifully appropriate my name was going to be?’
‘Perdita? It’s a very pretty name. I got it from Shakespeare.’
‘I know. And it means “the lost one”.’
‘Well, yes, but we’re not lost.’
‘Not yet, we’re not… No, no, I believe you, really I do!’
‘The Lost One’ as it appears in The Wind Off the Small Isles and The Lost One
I am of course hugely excited to explore further the variations between the two stories – I will let you know if I spot any significant differences.
Cumbria: Nenthead, Alston and Crossfell
Has anyone bought this paperback yet? I hope that you will – and once you have read the two stories, please get in touch to let me know your thoughts.
Some online ordering options (RRP £7.99):