Mary Stewart's gothic romance The Ivy Tree was published in 1961. Many readers of this blog say it's their favorite novel by her. So far, I'd have to agree it's mine, too, of the ones I have read.
When Mary Grey meets Connor Winslow on the Roman Wall when she is sightseeing, he makes an offer she wants to refuse... but strangely, she is drawn to the job of impersonating Annabel Winslow, an heiress who disappeared eight years before from the family estate, Whitescar. Secrets and threats to Mary's life make the job fraught with peril. Someone wants Annabel dead for good.
Plot: 4/5 I was surprised by one major plot twist and not another. I will say that the novel drags after the first twenty pages which are riveting until around page 60. I know some won't agree, but there is one scene in particular that seemed way too drawn out (in Mary's boarding house with Lisa). Overall, though, the premise of the novel is intriguing, and the suspense and tension mounted until I didn't want to put the novel down. I was kept guessing for a while about a couple aspects of the plot.
Characterization: 5/5 Each character was well drawn. I could see Connor Winslow played by someone I can't quite grasp. He is that much his own character to me. Adam Forrest, the other love interest in the novel, is also compelling. I am not sure that any author does a love scene bathed in moonlight better than Stewart, and there are at least two in this novel that the heroine shares with both men in a parallel fashion. Some of the characters' names are also enviable in the novel. Stewart infuses them with symbolism and meaning.
Spooky elements/atmosphere: 5/5 For the sheer beauty of Stewart's description, I have to give this a 5. Mary Grey's walks in the moonlight took my breath away as did the world that exists in the novel. Stewart's prose is lush.
Literary elements: 4/5 Stewart has a snippet of a poem, often a ballad at the start of each chapter. In general, too, the writing is just intelligent.
Romantic elements: 5/5 This one is hopelessly heady and romantic. If you are a fan of studying how fate, choice, and chance intersect and the impossible love story comes to fruition, you will enjoy this one. I admire the way Stewart leaves doors open and explores nuances of feeling in each character. She focuses on the gray of emotions and relationships as well as the tension. One of my favorite set of lines in the novel is this, and I won't spoil any plot details by tagging them. The dark romance of these lines ranks up there for me with Wuthering Heights and some of the dialogue between Cathy and Heathcliff. From The Ivy Tree:
"Life does go on, and you change, and you can't go back. You have to live it the way it comes. You know that."
"Yes, of course. But it would be very much easier to be dead."
Rating: 4+ stars ****+
If you want to know why Mary Stewart is so loved, this novel can help... :) "Time was. Time is... time is to come."