Mary Stewart’s first novel, Madam Will You Talk (1955), has it all: intrigue, adventure, breath-taking settings, humour and, off course, romance. Charity Selborne is a young war widow who travels to the South of France with her best friend Louise. On her first day over she meets a mysterious young boy, David, and his dog.
“The whole affair began so very quietly. When I wrote, that summer, and asked my friend Louise if she would come with me on a car trip to Provence, I had no idea that I might be issuing an invitation to danger. And when we arrived one afternoon, after a hot but leisurely journey, at the enchanting little walled city of Avignon, we felt in that mood of pleasant weariness mingled with anticipation which marks, I believe, the beginning of every normal holiday.”
What begins as a ‘quiet affair’, quickly develops into a dashing adventure, culminating in a spectacular car chase. The novel is delightfully vintage and stylish, the prose elegant and clever. Charity is a great heroine: she is adventurous and brave, independent and cultured – she can quote the romantic poets of the top of her head – an accomplished driver and car mechanic. Quite the girl to have on your side when things get messy. The secondary characters are just as well drawn and entertaining. I particularly liked Louise who, while Charity chases villains, spends her time sketching or reading her book enjoying an aperitif or liqueur.
“She is an artist, has no temperament to speak of, and is unutterably and incurably lazy. When accused of this, she merely says that she is seeing life steadily and seeing it whole, and this takes time. You can neither ruffle nor surprise Louise; you can certainly never quarrel with her. If trouble should ever arise, Louise is simply not there; she fades like the Cheshire Cat, and comes back serenely when it is all over.”