Review: The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

What would you do if you came face to face with your doppelgänger? Conner (Con) Winslow gets the shock of his life when he see a woman standing in the fields of the Whitescar estate…the long list heiress of Whitescar, Annabel Winslow as returned from the dead!

It has long been believed that Annabel died eight years ago. She had a fight with her Grandfather and fled the country to America where it was later reported she was dead.

In Mary Stewart’s gothic novel The Ivy Tree, a woman shows up at Whitescar with an erie resemblance to Annabel…it is hard to dismiss as coincidence.

Con approaches the woman…even her own cousin has his doubts about this woman but the resemblance is uncanny! The woman is in fact Mary Grey from Canada….but to Con she is a dream come true!

Whitescar (the farm and estate of the Winslow family) has been left the old man Winslow’s favorite granddaughter–Annabel. Even after eight years he refuses to give up hope that Annabel will return to the him and the estate. In her absence, Con has been maintaining the land but will likely inherit nothing.

Julie (Annabel’s cousin) is the back up inheritor but she has no interest in the land or the money. And to complicate matters further, Grandfather Winslow suffered a stroke recently and will likely not survive the year–he plans to finally face reality, Annabel is dead and he must change his will to make Julie the soul inheritor, passing Con over for a closer relation.

Con and his sister Lisa, devise a plan that includes the help of Mary Grey…..Mary is to ‘return’ to Whitescar as Annabel and when Grandfather dies, she will give Whitescar to Con and keep the money for herself. Mary can hardly say no–she has been living on little to no money for months working odd jobs and blowing like a tumbleweed in the wind.

She could hardly pass up a chance to get some extra income and Con’s plan seems carefully constructed and fool proof. Mary agrees to deceive the Winslow family and pose as Annabel. Con and Lisa brief her on the essentials and when she is ‘prepared’ enough they bring her to Whitescar as the prodigal returner.

No one questions that she is Annabel, and Mary proves to be an even better actress than Con and Lisa hoped for! But when Annabel’s old flame, Adam Forrest, returns from Italy things become increasingly complicated. Someone wanted Annabel dead–and badly.

This book is an enchanting cocktail of a gothic novel and with a splash of classic film noir–two of my most styles! Of course the gothic elements are easy to recognize–crumbling castles, families fallen from grace, a doppelgänger, mistaken identity mixed with the film noir mise-en-scene–lots of smoking, seedy characters, corruption, and ‘wuthering’ shadows can’t help but engross the reader! This is different than most gothic novels in that it is set in modern day.

One of the things I liked best about this novel was that it kept me on edge. The use of gothic and noir elements really made me uneasy– I couldn’t shake the feeling that the narrator was a unreliable narrator.

Mary seemed like she had something to hide. In the beginning she is sketchy about her life when she talks to Con, but open enough to talk about a criminal scheme–something doesn’t fit and I couldn’t help but NOT trust her. Like a classic noir character, Mary seemed opportunistic…she went into a shady deal a little too willingly to be a ‘good girl’. Throughout the novel I was on edge for this reason….was Mary a classic noir character or an unreliable narrator or both?

Unreliable narrators are difficult things….the reader often feels betrayed by the narrator but it is a tactic that is so well liked in the gothic genre that I simply love it! I think it makes the book more exciting in a way….it keeps you guessing.

I have mixed feelings about the narrator in this book….in ways I felt gypped but at the same time, I wanted to keep reading to see how this was all going to turn out in the end….and the narrator did try to justify/redeem herself.

It’s a no-brainer that I loved all the gothic details and gothic feeling of the novel…LOVED the overall feel!!!

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was there needed to be a little more romance and build up to the ending. It was only 272 pages which I thought was a little on the short side for a mystery novel. I thought there needed to be more of a climax in the mystery….there was a lot of ground work in the beginning but then all of a sudden things happened a little too fast and abruptly for me which made the ended seem rushed.

While Con, Annabel/Mary, and Julie were fairly developed, the other principal character and love interest, Adam, was not. I felt that Adam was an important character to the over all story and we didn’t get to know too much about him…Donald was more developed for me than Adam which was a little distracting because he wasn’t the main love interest. I had a hard time buying the burning, undying love between Adam and Annabel because we knew so little of Adam and their relationship dynamic….I was wanting more.

My mom read this book and has been hounding me for MONTHS to read it….she even sent me a copy to read–that is how committed she was to this novel and me reading it LOL :). She knew this book would be right up my alley…. I hate to admit this but she was right! I liked the book, I don’t know that I LOVED the book. Personally I prefer Victoria Holt but that said, I did like Stewart’s writing style and will likely read others by her.

If you like all things dreary and withering set in the moorish countryside of North England….you will love The Ivy Tree!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

  • Mass Market Paperback, Third Crest Printing, 272 pages
  • Published April 1963 by Fawcett (first published 1961)

This book counts toward: NA

Recommendation: 3 out of 5 (a great gothic novel with all the characteristic favorites!)

Genre: Gothic fiction, mystery

Memorable lines/quotes:

It isn’t the people who’ve had things their own way who–well get wisdom. And they haven’t the time to think about what life does to other people either. But if you’ve been hurt yourself you can imagine it. You come alive to it. (123)

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