If some books are all plot, one could argue that Rose Cottage is all place, all setting. And what a setting it is!
Book Review: Rose Cottage (1997) by Mary Stewart
At the request of her beloved
grandmother, war widow Kate Herrick returns to the idyllic English countryside
and the tiny thatched dwelling of her childhood, Rose Cottage, where she must
retrieve some valuable papers hidden in a secret safe. Yet Kate is intrigued to
discover the mysterious documents have been stolen.
While eccentric villagers buzz with sightings of strange lights and ghostly apparitions around Rose Cottage, Kate uncovers a web of family resentment, jealousy, and revenge as tangled as the rambling vines in its garden. The twisted trail leads to a stunning revelation that opens the door to her own shrouded past–and an unexpected chance at love.
Rose Cottage is the late, great Mary Stewart’s final published novel. If some books are all plot, one might argue that this farewell from the queen of romantic suspense is all place, all setting.
And what a setting it is. With Stewart’s classic, vivid evocations, she transports the reader back to a post-WWII Great Britain, where horses and cars share the road, where rationing is still in place, where the church is the center of community life. Rose Cottage is a portrait of a time long since past. And this pastoral nostalgia is so very homey and cozy, like being back in Grandma’s kitchen, being tucked in by Mom at night. Yes, something so very comforting and comfortable.
“Why was it that one always regretted change? Things were not made to stay fixed, preserved in amber. Perhaps the only acceptable amber was memory.”
Kate Herrick returns to her home village to collect family items in the family home, which is soon to be renovated and sold by the estate. Kate hasn’t been home for years. And the simple task of clearing out a home becomes more complicated when the items of the hidden safe are gone and gone recently from the looks of it.
The return to her hometown precipitates a walk down memory lane for Kate, or Kathy as she is known in the village. Symbolically, these two names represent different aspects of Kate/Kathy, the woman, and the girl, who she is now and who she was. She finds herself at a crossroads, examining her past and considering what to do now. Her mom’s long passed, her father is unknown; she’s had the label of illegitimate her entire life. Her Gran has left the village. And all that remains is the cottage.
Or is there more? Is there a sense of belonging? Is there a ghost from her past? Or is there a childhood friend who could become something more? There is certainly a mystery. Mainly because someone took those items from the family safe. And in the clearing of the house, some long-buried secrets come to the fore.
A Book to Curl Up With
In many ways, not much outside action occurs in Rose Cottage. There are no caves and smugglers and crawling up mountainsides like many other Stewart romantic suspense novels. This is an inward journey, a journey of self-discovery for our heroine. The romance is so subtle as to be almost non-existent and yet not. One of the greatest things about Mary Stewart’s writing has always been the way she engages the reader to imagine. She never spells it all out. You’re always deducing and intuiting, and that is so very satisfying. And who doesn’t love the trope of the hometown return and discovering love in the place you left…
Rose Cottage leaves a lingering sense of satisfaction. Sure, it’s not fast-paced and action-packed. There are no clandestine snogs in the closet and emotional outbursts. But the writing is like being wrapped in a security blanket, so warm and warm-hearted and loving. Here, you’re in safe hands. Here, you have nothing to worry about. Yes, here, it’s all okay. It’s a hug, a great, big farewell hug from a fabulous writer. Truly, this is a book to curl up with.
Content Note: Nothing to come after.
Adaptation Recommendation: I would love to see the works of Mary Stewart adapted to the small screen, into miniseries. And while this one maybe wouldn’t be the first choice for an adaptation, it is a gentle, heartfelt, and sweet story.
Have you read Rose Cottage? What are your thoughts on Mary Stewart’s final novel?
“You had me at hello.”
“Happiness in marriage is entirely a
matter of chance.”