‘The Wind off the Small Isles’ by Mary Stewart

PA Perdita is accompanying her employer, bestselling children’s novelist Cora Gresham, on a fact-finding trip to the Canary Islands. When driving through Lanzarote, they stumble across a house which Cora takes an instant shine to, and decides she wants to buy. Unfortunately, it transpires, the house is already owned by critically acclaimed playwright James Blair, who is currently staying there with his personal assistant, Michael Gresham (yes, they are related; Michael is Cora’s son). Michael invites Perdita and Cora to stay for a drink, and James begins to recount the romantic mystery which surrounds the house both he and Cora are so attracted to…

windoffthesmallisles

Stewart’s 1968 novella has just been rereleased by Hodder and Stoughton in a beautiful hardback edition (pictured above).  They describe it as an ‘extraordinary long-lost novella’. This strikes me as rather bizarre; I can only assume that they are synonymising ‘long lost’ with ‘out of print’. I can agree with Hodder’s assertion that this novella is ‘extraordinary’, though. For such a slim volume, it has a lot going on, and seems to me to draw together a number of the themes which run throughout Stewart’s work: notions of place and history, for example, of romance, of course, intertextual play (in this case with Keat’s poem The Eve of St. Agnes) as well as an exploration of the politics of literary value. This last is ordinarily confined to the sub-textual in Stewart’s novels, but in The Wind off the Small Isles is bought to the fore by virtue of the relationship between ‘popular’, ‘lowbrow’ writer Cora, and ‘esteemed’, ‘highbrow’ James. Their interactions are fascinating, and reveal a lot, I think, of Stewart’s experience of the literary marketplace. If you enjoyed this book, you may also like to try Elizabeth Jenkin’s The Tortoise and the Hare, another novel which investigates notions of literary value, but your first port of call should of course be the rest of Stewart’s impressive back-catalogue, which will always come highly recommended by me.

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3 thoughts on “‘The Wind off the Small Isles’ by Mary Stewart”

  1. This is a lovely post. The Wind Off the Small Isles is a fascinating novella, jam-packed with ideas and themes and beautiful description. I have blogged about this book too, and just yesterday I blogged about its prequel, ‘The Lost One’ – I’m at marystewartreading.wordpress.com if you’d like to take a look.

    I haven’t come across The Tortoise and the Hare, I’ll need to look out for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Allison 🙂 I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even KNOW there was a prequel to this! How exciting! Your blog is so informative and full of fascinating information – I’m curious to know where you get it all from! Have you been able to get into Stewart’s papers, for example?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your kind comments! I don’t think very many people know about the Lost One, I found out about it when I was looking through her papers held at the National Library of Scotland – they have had most of her early manuscripts since I think the 1970s and have acquired more since she died in 2014. I’ve been mad about her books for years so I’ve enjoyed quite a few trips to the National Library.

        Like

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