It is the last day of Mary Stewart Reading Week and I am coming in just under the wire with my review. Given how busy I’ve been this week, this seems a triumph of magnificent proportions. Adjusting to a new job is always a little difficult but I’ve been dealing with exams and visitors on top of that this month, leaving no time for blogging. It is wonderful to have an excuse to write a review again.
As soon as Anboyln announced her plans for this reading week, I knew I wanted to read Airs Above the Ground. While I read the Merlin books years ago and recently tried my first of her romantic suspense novels, this is the Mary Stewart book that has been calling out to me. Not particularly loudly, since I’ve always had the idea that I wouldn’t particularly enjoy Stewart’s books, but enough that it has been on my radar, coming up every time I search for books set in Austria. You know my passion for books set in Central Europe so you can imagine how often I look for books set there.
When Vanessa March sees her husband on a newsreel item about a circus fire in Austria, she is shocked, having believed him to be in Sweden on business. When the opportunity comes up to escort Timothy Lacey – who, in his late teens, really has no need of a twenty-something guardian – to Vienna, Vanessa takes it, determined to find her husband and discover what is going on. What follows is a rather chaotic whirl among spies, criminals, and circus performers.
I honestly can’t say that I missed all that much by having passed this by all these years. Stewart’s style of writing is engaging and I love the characters she creates – the Lipizanner-mad Timothy and the forthright veterinarian Vanessa make an excellent platonic duo – but I get so frustrated by all the other hallmarks of Stewart’s books. The absurdly long descriptive passages had me longing to grab an editor’s blue pencil and cross whole pages out. What came to mind most often was Angela Thirkell’s Mrs Rivers, a novelist known to her publishers as the “Baedeker Bitch” for her overblown descriptions of exotic settings. Mary Stewart spends so much time describing the Austrian countryside that I feel she and Mrs Rivers could have had a good time exchanging guide books. And the descriptions are so meaningless most of the time that there really is no good reason to tolerate them. Why would we possible care how much sunshine a village gets in the winter when our characters are visiting in the summer?
But my real issue with Mary Stewart is that I simply do not enjoy suspense novels. The hair-raising chases and dramatic climaxes do nothing for me, particularly when one dramatic event follows another and then another, as is the case here. By stringing such theatrical episodes together, they lose what little power they might have held over me if presented individually as the suiting climax to a suspenseful build-up.
Still, I am glad I finally read this. It has helped me put my interest in Mary Stewart to rest, though I can easily see why readers with different preferences might enjoy her.