I am pleased to announce a new guest review: Lucy C has kindly agreed to let me share here on Mary Queen of Plots her thoughts on ‘The Loch’, Mary Stewart’s essay that appeared in the 1971 anthology The Twelfth Man, compiled by the Lord’s Taverners for the Duke of Edinburgh. Lucy won the giveaway of this book that I organised as part of Mary Stewart Day, and you can read Lucy’s initial reaction to ‘The Loch’ in the comments under this post: Mary Stewart Day giveaway.

Here then is Lucy’s review:

I love the way Mary Stewart captures your attention in the first sentence. In The Loch it begins “It must be fully fifteen years since we first saw the loch.” I can pull apart that first sentence and appreciate the alliteration and the punchy one syllable words but I just know that all this came naturally to her – she went with what sounded right. She could do this I think because she was naturally talented and read extensively. Another first sentence of hers that packs a similar punch is ‘I met him in the street called Straight’ from The Gabriel Hounds. This would be in my top ten of best first sentences ever alongside ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ by Daphne du Maurier.

I also liked the last sentence in The Loch which I won’t write here for fear of giving the story away. Again it is punchy in its shortness. Short and brusque. This got me looking at the endings in other Mary Stewart books and I decided I liked the last sentence in This Rough Magic. ‘Far out in the bay a curve of blue fire melted, rolled in a silver wheel, and was lost under the light of day.’

When I started reading Mary Stewart in my teens a long time ago in the seventies, I was always impressed with the quality of her writing. She didn’t patronise the reader and I learned many new words through reading her books. Again, reading The Loch, I reached for the dictionary or rather typed the words into an online dictionary and delighted in learning what ‘isthmus’ ‘sedge’,’runnels’ and ‘hoodies’ (not the clothing) were and so on. I bet the Editor did not have to correct any of her grammar or punctuation.

There is no doubting Mary Stewart’s descriptive powers in The Loch. For example – I like the following: ‘Down on the left the water flashed and glittered through the tree-trunks, and to the right the wooded slopes rose steeply, hung with woodsorrel and wind-flowers and the young green of bracken.’ To me, this wasn’t just a beautiful purely descriptive piece of writing – she got me investing in the story, caring about the wild life, which made the ending even more shocking.

I also learned a bit more about Mary Stewart herself. She was knowledgeable about Natural History, that she drew and was concerned for the environment. Her flair for the English language is unquestionable. I like the sentence ‘the glen was alive and ringing with birds.’ I like her choice of words – ‘ringing’ implies a bell ringing with all its rhythm and deafening noise. I could pick out many examples of beautiful writing. Another bit I liked was ‘the far blue hills where the eagle hung.’ I like that she took time to choose her words and not settle for the obvious. This tells me that she was a perfectionist in her writing.

Thanks again Allison for my prize.  Kind regards.  Lucy

Many thanks to Lucy for writing this! I am especially excited about this great review because I know hardly anyone else who has read this essay so it is great to learn just what another Mary Stewart reader makes of ‘The Loch’ – and what is more, Lucy’s ideas match my own. Has anyone else read this essay? Would you like to share your opinion of it? And what about those of you who haven’t read ‘The Loch’? – are you now desperate to read it? If so, look out for it on eBay, abe books and so on, or perhaps you might come across it in a second-hand bookshop. Let me know if you manage to track down a copy!

See also an excerpt from ‘The Loch’ here. And the cover makes it to no. 3 in my Top Ten Tuesday book covers post here.

‘The Loch’ in The Twelfth Man, The Lord’s Taverners, 1971, Cassell