‘Touch Not the Cat’ by Mary Stewart

Touch Not the Cat is completely insane. It opens with Bryony Ashley, an English girl living in Madeira, receiving news (via telepathy) that her father is dying. She rushes to his bedside, but doesn’t make it in time. She does, however, meet a doctor who passes on a seemingly nonsensical letter, addressed to Bryony, which was dictated by her father during his final hours. Suspecting foul play, and determined to find out what her father was trying to tell her, Bryony returns to the family home, Ashley Court, in England, to investigate. We learn early on that Bryony has a boyfriend. The problem is, she doesn’t know his name, or what he looks like. This is because she and her ‘lover’ (as she calls him) only communicate telepathically. As well as uncovering the mystery of her father’s death, then, Bryony must also discover the identity of her mysterious, formless lover…

Touch Not the Cat is like the love-child of Daphne du Maurier and John Wyndham: crumbling gothic house, creepy identical twins, flashbacks to the seventeenth century, telepathic love-making… There’s a lot going on, and in less adept hands the novel could easily spin into indecipherable madness, much like Bryony’s father’s dying note. Happily, though, Stewart’s trademark good sense and good storytelling result in a novel which is atmospheric, suspenseful, and highly engaging. For me, what Stewart presents is a meditation on the nature of storytelling itself; most apparent, I think, in the references to Bryony’s ancestor Nick Ashley, whose true story doesn’t quite match up to what is written in the history books, and in the novel’s constant references to the tale of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, of ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’, and to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. If you’ve enjoyed du Maurier’s Rebecca, Wyndham’s The Chrysalids or anything by Victoria Holt, then I would highly recommend this book. It is brilliant and bonkers, and I couldn’t love it more.

Mary Stewart

3 thoughts on “‘Touch Not the Cat’ by Mary Stewart”

  1. Hi, this is an excellent post – as a huge Mary Stewart fan, I am quite relieved and pleased that you found it bonkers but brilliant. I love her books and I adore how on-point she was with the 1970s in Touch Not the Cat with its telepathic theme – a bit like when she extolled the virtues of uncrushable synthetic frocks in the 1950s!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Allison, thanks for your kind comments! I’m a big Stewart fan too (in fact I wrote my thesis on her!) which is why I wanted her to be my first review. Its also why I’m thrilled to discover your blog now, its looks fab! I’m looking forward to exploring it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really wanting to read your thesis! It’s fantastic that Mary Stewart was the subject of your thesis, that must have been wonderful – apart from the very hard work involved…
    And thank you, I hope you enjoy my blog and I’m looking forward to reading yours (I adore Cold Comfort Farm).


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