I was attracted by the cover of Stormy Petrel. The edition I read was hardback and the cover painting in browns, pinks, blues, browns and greys depicted a lonely island setting dotted with sheep, a lone car and a dwelling outside which a red coated character stared out to sea, birds, clouds and rocky outcroppings, some of which could be islands. I thoroughly enjoyed this short book - told in the first person which I often find makes for easy, intimate reading. It was first published in 1991, and thus some of the details in the book would not hold water today. However, communication difficulties in the far reaches of Scotland and her islands are still a fact of life – particularly during bad weather.
The heroine of the book, Rose Fenemore, plans to visit Moila with her brother for a holiday; she books a holiday home advertised as an “ivory tower” – a concept that appeals to her academic and creative sides. She wants space for creativity and writing, spurred on by the fact that her academic life is not giving her creative inspiration. She has success in writing, under a pen name, that she does not advertise to her students - it is a genre which might not be seen as appropriate in literary academia.
Due to unforeseen circumstances Rose’s brother is delayed, leaving Rose to start her holiday on her own. Key ingredients for adventure include a remote and wild landscape, a single woman on her own (the heroine has access to one shop and one phone a fair walking distance from her cottage) and a stormy night which heralds the arrival of two men neither of whom are what they seem... There are some beautiful descriptions of landscape, local people and the wildlife in the book. The stormy petrel of the title is exquisitely described, and the link between the bird and the story is one of the many gifts of this novel. This is a gentle yet joyous story, ending with scenes that bring the main characters together to untangle what has gone before and look forward to life anew.
Mary Stewart is an author whose books I have always enjoyed. I recently picked up Stormy Petral, which I had not read, in a charity shop which had a roomful of books you could take for free. All they asked was a donation – as much or as little as you liked. The book will go back to them once this review is published for someone else to enjoy.
Should you wish to learn more about the book there are links to the US and UK versions below.
The Stormy Petrel