Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Nine Coaches WaitingNine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although Nine Coaches Waiting was first published in 1958, it is one of my favorite discoveries of 2013.
Nine Coaches Waiting is written with a beautiful use of language, and a sense of place and time which evokes safety, even when characters are in mortal danger.
The novel takes place mainly in the south-east of France, in a chateau between the cities of Lyon and Geneva. Our heroine is the half-French governess, Linda, who has been hired to take care of nine-year-old aristocrat and heir to the family fortune, Philippe. Linda, who is an orphan, arrives at the Chateau Valmy with hopes of reconnecting with her roots. Instead, she finds that danger, and romance, lurk in the shadows of the manor.
I write the previous sentence with tongue in cheek, because, although Nine Coaches Waiting is unabashedly a classic romantic-suspense novel, it manages to avoid saccharine clichés common to the genre. Mary Stewart’s writing is exquisite, her evocative descriptions of the French countryside made me never want to leave that fictional place. The novel is written in a slightly old-fashioned tone that manages to create a sense of escapism, rather than irrelevance.
Furthermore, Stewart’s characters are eminently relatable; her heroine, Linda manages to be good and kind without being annoying. In this way, Stewart’s world-view is a welcome relief from some of the more cynical writing I have read of late.
I think there is a trend in current fiction and film in which it is considered “uncool” or unrealistic to have characters that are basically decent, or live in a world which is good. It seems that there is a dichotomy between fanaticism, with unrealistic expectations of perfection, and “real-life,” in which characters are written as deeply flawed and selfish. I very much enjoy reading books with antiheroes, or characters struggling with inner demons, but at the same time, the world these fictional, despairing characters inhabit is only one view of a place that none of us can truly understand in its entirety.
What I’m saying, in a rather longwinded way, is that, in Nine Coaches Waiting, I pleasantly re-experienced a world that was ultimately hopeful, without being Pollyannaish. I enjoyed Nine Coaches Waiting so much that I stopped reading all other books (I usually read 3 or 4 at a time) and can truly say that I was reading the story for pleasure. As an adult, who tends to see some level of productivity in everything I do, it was a welcome to relief to have a fun read.
As a final note, although I gave a five-star rating to Nine Coaches Waiting, this doesn’t mean I thought the book was perfect. Present-day readers may find that male/female dynamics in the book occasionally seem dated. At one point, Linda makes some sort of comment that she is “only a woman.”
Despite this, I enjoyed Nine Coaches Waiting immensely. Unlike The Crystal Cave, which I read last year, and which left me cold, this novel had a lot of heart. I loved it so much that I purchased it for my best friend for Christmas, and am now reading Thornyhold by Mary Stewart. I am very glad to have discovered the novels of this wonderful storyteller.

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