Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I was about 11 and living in Mandeville, Jamaica, I was wandering around the dusty bookshelves of the used bookstore run by the cancer society, where my mom volunteered periodically. I had a couple of dollars in my pocket, probably earmarked for an Archie digest comic book, but I picked this up instead.
During the next several months, I combed the used bookstore for more Mary Stewart. I was in luck; a whole shelf full of worn paperbacks that had that wonderful smell of aged paper. I read Nine Coaches Waiting, My Brother Michael, Wildfire at Midnight and Airs Above Ground. I liked all of them. But none of them as much as Madam, Will You Talk?
For years, it was a go-to book every couple of months. We didn't have a library to frequent in Jamaica and I often would sit, staring at my bookshelf, wishing for something new to read. And when I didn't have anything new, I'd invariably pick this up. And read it again. And again.
Eight years later, the book fell apart in my hands. I taped it together with duct tape and got three or four more readings out of it but eventually had to throw it away. Two years after that, I found another copy, same 75¢ Fawcett Crest Book edition, idling away its time in the philosophy section of used bookstore that obviously had lax organizational requirements. By this time, I was finishing college and my re-reading became less frequent. But when I was 28, I had to drive from Omaha, Nebraska to Kansas City, Missouri to hop on a flight to Texas to audition for grad school. A blizzard hit but I made the drive anyway. I packed a coffee can, a box of 500 matches, several rolls of toilet paper, a huge down comforter, a +10 sleeping bag, a sack full of food, a couple of gallons of water, my late 90s cell phone, a flashlight, extra batteries and Madam, Will You Talk. And the whole drive, I was found myself wishing I'd slide off the road and get stuck, just so I could cuddle up in my sleeping bag, next to a nice TP fire-in-a-can, and read while I was waiting to be rescued.
I've not read this book in over ten years. I picked it up earlier this week because I had miraculously caught up on my New Yorker reading and didn't have anything from the library cued up and ready to go.
It's just as good as it's always been. And maybe even better.
So off I go on an indulgent re-read of Stewart's books, starting with The Rose Cottage, which is her last book (though she's still alive and kicking at the ripe age of 96, she has not published anything in 15 years) Her books are often classified as romances but they aren't, really. They are about strong women who aren't so strong that they don't worry about fashion or fall in love with the wrong men. They are the Grace Kellys and the Audrey Hepburns of fiction. They are the women I'd like to be. In my next life, maybe.
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