The gloved hands moved in her lap. "I hope you will, Miss Martin." The words were kind, but formally spoken, and the smile had gone. -- Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting
So presently, having shared a stick of chocolate and said our prayers, from both of which exercises we derived immense comfort, we settled down for what remained of the night. -- Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting
I love this book for so many reasons. Most of all, I love it because it's everything Jane Eyre should be, but isn't.
Yes, I know. I just committed literary heresy. Being a female English major, I'm obligated to adore Jane Eyre. I probably even signed a paper along the way, swearing to uphold her ideals. And I've tried. Believe me, I've tried. Sometimes, I kind of do.
But most of the time, I think Jane is a twit, Rochester is completely rude, and what is going on with St. John Rivers? Please!
Eyre-ites may leap to her defense, but before you try to burn me at the stake, let me at least say: I have always loved the atmosphere of the book. Gothic? Absolutely. The romance, the suspense, the pins and needles uncertainty. I love the mad wife and the called-off wedding. I even love a disconsolate Jane wandering around the moors. That's all fine and wonderful. And in spite of wanting to wring Rochester's neck, I do always think of reading Jane when the weather turns from summer to fall. I can't help it.
But now I've found the perfect substitute.
I read it in one long wonderful day, curled up in the sun. I was sick with a cold but forgetting it, thanks to the twists and turns in Stewart's marvelous novel.
So, let me say it again: It's what I always wanted when I thought I wanted Jane Eyre.
After all, there's a huge rambling estate, a proud noble family. There's a powerful and enigmatic master in Leon de Valmy, there's his icy elegant wife Heloise, and then their nephew: young Philippe, a ten-year-old count.
Linda Martin is the English governness hired for Philippe, and as she learns to care for this quiet, formal child, she begins to uncover the secrets of the family... and falls in love. Foils a few murder attempts. Gets to run for her life. All those good things.
Also, she has a lot more pluck than other governess-heroines I could mention. And she's more outspoken. Possibly more determined. She makes for a wonderfully engaging narrator.
So there it is, the perfect book to kick off your autumn reading list. It was certainly enough to skyrocket all Mary Stewart titles to the top of mine.
And, if you're about to hunt me down for disparaging Jane, please at least read this book first. It has some wonderful Jane-y moments, I promise you. Including a mishap during a foggy walk--you know what I mean--as well as calling the meek governness out in front of a glittering party... really. And a kind hearted Englishman who is a far better stand-in for St. John Rivers. (I don't want to kick him every time he appears. Huge improvement.) They even call Linda "Jane Eyre" a time or two.
You'll love it. If you don't, then you can hunt me down.
Recommendation: Linda always makes Philippe cocoa before bed, so why not start there. Drinking chocolate would be even more elegant. Just make sure you give yourself a long afternoon to dive into this book, maybe in a patch of sun. And if you're going to have a rainy weekend like we are, well, so much the better.
(Really, my Eyre friends. I promise.)