Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

I loved ‘Thornyhold’ every bit as much as I had expected. And maybe even a little more.

Geillis  was a lonely child, the only daughter of undemonstrative parents, but her godmother, a herbalist and maybe a white witch, understood and showed her the magic in the world that she had always wanted to see:

“Everything, suddenly, seemed outlined in light. The dog-daisies, white and gold, and taller than I was, stirred and swayed above my head as if combed through by a strong breeze. In its wake the air stilled again, thick with scents. The birds stopped singing, the grasshoppers were silent. I sat there, as still as a snail on the stem, in the middle of a full and living world and saw it for the first time, and for the first time knew myself to be a part of it.

She sank down beside me on the grass. She seemed to manage it without disturbing the dog-daisies. she ran a forefinger up the stem of one daisy, and a ladybird came off it on the finger and clung there.

“Look,” she said. “Quickly. count the spots.”

I had loved Gilly from the start, and I was as captivated by her godmother and by the magic in the world as she was.

ThornyholdThat visit was magical, but life was difficult.

Gilly had to leave university early to look after her newly widowed father; and when he died she found herself alone in the world, with no job, little money, and no idea how she should live.

Until she inherited Thornyhold, her godmother’s woodland cottage, and just enough money to live on.

Gilly fell in love with her home, and so did I, as Mary Stewart described everything that she saw, everything that she felt so beautifully.

I would love to curl up and read in the bedroom:

“After what I had seen downstairs, the bathroom was a surprise. It was a big room with two tall windows giving on the back, or south side of the house. In each with a wide window seat, set in the depth of the wall. The fireplace was delicate, with pretty flowered tiles. A bow-fronted chest did duty as a dressing-table, and a deep cupboard beside the fireplace stood open, showing the hanging-room of a big wardrobe. The bed was double, and high. The carpet was a soft green, lining the room, as it were, with the woods outside. By one of the windows was an easy chair. A lovely room.”

I would love to step outside:

“All that remained of the original plan was the broad flagged wall that ran straight from the house, bisecting the lawn, to a belvedere at the river’s edge. This was a paved half-moon, edged with a low balustrade, holding a pair of curved stone benches. Between these a shallow flight of steps led down to the water  where just below the surface could be seen a row of stepping-stones that would, in summer or a low water, be uncovered. On the opposite bank willows trailed their hair in the shallows, and golden flakes of fallen leaves turned idly on the current before floating downstream. Coppices of hazel framed the entrance to an overgrown forest ride stretching up through the trees.”

Gilly’s story works wonderfully as an ‘inheriting a house book’ and could stand happily alongside books like ‘The Scent of Water’ by Elizabeth Goudge, ‘The House on the Cliff’ by D E Stevenson, ‘The Heir’ by Vita SackvilleWest …. and if you can think of others that I might not have read I’d love to know …..

This is one of Mary Stewart’s later works, and there is less action and intrigue than there is in her earlier works of romantic suspense, but the more thoughtful, more contemplative feel of this book works wonderfully.

There is a little mystery.

Gilly finds that she has inherited a book of spells and a black cat named Hodge. Was her godmother really a witch? Why is the housekeeper so interested?  What is happening in the house?

There is a little romance too.

It’s engaging, but it does become a little silly at times, and the plot is not quite as strong as the writing in the latter part of the story.

I loved following Gilly’s progress , I loved seeing the world through her eyes, and the way that the pieces fell into place was wonderful.

I suspect that there were loose ends, and unanswered questions, but I’m not going to worry about them; because I loved that heart and soul of this book.

25 responses

  1. Dear Fleur, I remember when I first read this book years ago , I felt exactly as you described in your summing up sentence~ I think it may be long enough now since I read it that I might read it again and get the same joy I did so many years ago now. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book by Mary Stewart and reminding me of it~ Still have my copy but where to locate it in all my books , that will be the major task!

  2. Reading Wildfire at Midnight I realised that despite thinking I’d read all MS’s books I hadn’t. Your review isn’t ringing any bells either so maybe being a later work I missed this one too. Sounds lovely!

  3. I love this Mary Stewart book; it’s not my favorite–that’s still Nine Coaches Waiting–but it’s a close second. Probably because I liked Gilly so much. And the little boy and his pet ferret.

    • I think ‘Nine Coaches Waiting’ is my favourite too, though it’s hard to sort Mary Stewarts books into order because they all have different things to recommend them. I loved spending time with Gilly, and the cat, and the ferret ….

  4. I know, I just want to crawl into this book and live there. The plot is beside the point, especially in the latter part as you say!

  5. This isn’t one of my favourites but I did still like it. I loved Gilly and loved watching her explore her new home. I’m reading The Crystal Cave for the reading week and enjoying it so far.

    • I love ‘gowing up’ stories and ‘inheriting houses’ stories, so I did enjoy this, but if I’m objective I have to agree that this isn’t her best book. It’s good to know that you’re enjoying ‘The Crystal Cave’ because I have it in mind to try that series before I run out of the romantic-suspense novels.

  6. This isn’t my absolute favorite of her books either, but I did enjoy it very much. I really wanted a browse in the library! And (sometimes) I do like a coda that gives us a look into the characters’ future.

  7. Loved this book,the first, second and third time I read it.
    I wasn t the only person to comment that it was like a more gentle version of James Herberts “The Magic Cottage”.More believable also.

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