Since I discovered what a wonderful writer Mary Stewart was – just a few years ago, though my mother had recommended her books many years earlier – I’ve noticed that many readers name ‘Nine Coaches Waiting’ as a particular favourite. Now that I’ve read ‘Nine Coaches Waiting’ I can understand why, and I think that it might be my favourite too.
It’s not a realistic, real-world story; but it is a glorious entertainment
And it’s a ‘governess novel’ – a kind of book that I love
The story begins as Linda Martin lands in Paris on a cold, grey, rainy day. She was the son of an English father and a French mother, but they died when she was still quite young, and so she finished her education and became a governess inside an orphanage.
When the chance of a job in France appeared she was thrilled at the prospect of returning to the country she hadn’t seen for many years, and she secured the position. An English girl had been requested, and so she thought it sensible not to mention that she spoke the language fluently.
I warmed to Linda from the start, and I saw such promise in the story that was unfolding.
Her charge was Philippe, who also lost both his parents in a tragic accident. He was the heir to his father’s title, and to his estates, and he lived in the family home that he inherited, the vast and ornate Château Valmy, in the French Alps.
Linda was enchanted by the house, by its beauty and history, but she also saw that it was not a happy home.
She warmed to Philippe though, and a strong bond grew up between them.
He didn’t care for his Uncle Leon and Aunt Heloise, but Linda told herself that was just because they weren’t warm or demonstrative, because their lifestyle wasn’t suited to being parental figures, because they weren’t his beloved parents …..
Linda is shaken when two accidents, one in the countryside and one at home, come close to taking Philippe’s life. She knows then that something is wrong then, but she doesn’t know who to trust. She only knows that she will do whatever she can to protect Philippe.
She wanted to trust Raoul, the dark and dashing young man who had her utterly smitten, but she knew that he was Leon’s son, and that he might have had a hand in those accidents ….
I’d love to say more, but I mustn’t give away any more of the story than I have already.
But I must say what makes this book so special.
Mary Stewart always evokes the settings of her stories wonderfully well, and in a way that feels so natural; she does that here with the loveliest of settings. I was transported to the big house, to the nearby village, to the countryside. I loved it all.
The cast of characters was wonderful. Linda was plucky – but not too plucky – and I found it easy to understand her feeling and how she reacted to people and situations. Her relationship with Philippe was caught perfectly, and he was an utterly real child; he understood what was happening, but he needed guidance and support; and he needed a friend. The relationship between Linda and Philippe, and the way it evolved, was lovely, and exactly right.
All of the characters were simply drawn; but they had such depth. Uncle Leon was particularly interesting; a strong powerful man, confined to a wheelchair after an accident, and constrained by the role he had to play as his nephew’s trustee …..
The story was perfectly judged; mystery, suspense, romance, and just a dash of the gothic, woven together by a craftswoman at the height of her powers. And there was a nice balance of elements that were recognisably ‘Mary Stewart’ and elements that made this story distinctive. It was full of wonderful details; and I particularly liked the way that the small debt to Jane Eyre was acknowledged.
As events played out I was so caught up, so concerned for Linda and Philippe. I wasn’t sure that she was doing the right thing, but I knew that she was acting was the best of intentions. I could think of no better alternative, and I had no more idea than she did, or who she should or should not trust.
I realised, just a little before she did, that a new governess with no home and no family of her own might be a perfect scapegoat ….
The tension grew and grew. I knew how I wanted the story to play out, but I wasn’t sure that it could.
It did. I think ….