Novels Upper-intermediate

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

When Lucy Waring’s sister Phyllida suggests that she join her for a quiet holiday on the island of Corfu, young English Lucy is overjoyed. Her work as an actress has temporarily come to a halt. She believes there is no finer place to be “at liberty” than the sun-drenched isle of Corfu, the alleged locale for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Even the suspicious actions of the handsome, arrogant son of a famous actor cannot dampen her enthusiasm for this wonderland in the Ionian Sea.

But the peaceful idyll does not last long. A series of incidents, seemingly unconnected – but all surrounded in mystery – throws Lucy’s life into a dangerous spin, as fear, danger and death – as well as romance – supplant the former tranquility. Then a human corpse is carried ashore on the incoming tide… And without warning, she found she had stumbled into a nightmare of strange violence, stalked by shadows of terror and sudden death.

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This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

‘And if it’s a boy,’ Phyllida said cheerfully, ‘we’ll call him Prospero.’

I laughed. ‘Poor child! But why Prospero? Oh, of course, because of Prospero in The Tempest. Corfu was Shakespeare’s magic island in The Tempest, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes. We’ve already got one character from the play here – Miranda. And her brother’s called Spiro, which sounds a bit like Prospero, doesn’t it? Miranda and Spiro are twins.’ My sister smiled at me, and reached for the coffee pot. ‘More coffee, Lucy?’ she asked.

We were having breakfast outside in the sun, on the terrace of my sister’s house on the beautiful island of Corfu, which lies off the west coast of Greece. Below the terrace, wooded cliffs fell steeply to a small, sheltered bay, where the sea lay calm and still. From where we sat, we could not see the bay, as it was hidden by the trees. But we had a wonderful view out across the sea, and to the north we could just see the snow-topped mountains of Albania in the distance.

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

My sister Phyllida is three years older than I am, and when she was twenty, she married a Roman banker, Leonardo Forli. The Forli family had owned land on Corfu for many years and Leo’s great-grandfather had built an enormous house, the Castello dei Fiori, in the woods above the bay. Later, Leo’s father had built two smaller, more modern houses on the cliffs on the north and south sides of the bay. The house on the northern side was called the Villa Forli, and it was used by Phyllida and Leo. The house on the southern side was called the Villa Rotha, and it stood above the big boathouse, which Leo’s great-grandfather had built. This villa was rented by an Englishman, Godfrey Manning, who had been there since the previous autumn. He was writing a book, Phyllida had told me, and was taking a lot of photographs for it. The three houses were connected with the main road by the private road up to the Castello, and connected to each other by various paths through the woods and down to the bay.

That spring Phyllida was expecting her third child and the heat in Rome was too much for her. Therefore, Leo had persuaded her to go to Corfu, and to leave the other two children, who were at school, in the care of their grandmother in Rome. Leo, of course, was working, but he was going to visit Corfu at weekends whenever he could.

Phyllida had asked me to go and stay with her, and her invitation had come just at the right time. I’m an actress and the play I was in, my first in London, had closed after only two months. I was feeling very miserable. It had been a bad winter, and I was tired, depressed, and seriously wondering – at the age of twenty-five – if I should look for a different job. So it was wonderful to find myself on this magic island, with the sun shining brightly. It was far away from the cold of an English April…

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