Book Review: Four Marys (A Quartet of Contemporary Folk Tales) by Jean Rafferty

four marys

The Four Marys: A Quartet of Contemporary Folk Tales by Jean Rafferty

Saraband (paperback), 2014

280 Pages 


‘A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world.’ So said Agatha Christie, ambiguously; for the bond between mother and child is deep, but sometimes, motherhood does not come naturally. This is hinted at in references to the Four Marys ballad by Virginia Woolf and Joan Baez, both of whom feature here.

Obsession, longing, deceit and even murder feature in this quartet of provocative novellas, which gives a modern twist to tales of women for whom all is not necessarily as it seems or as each woman would want her life to be.

Drawing on universal themes of womanhood and on history, culture and lore, ‘The Four Marys’ is a riveting exploration of the complexities of motherhood: edgy and engrossing, moving, yet at times, disturbing.


DOWN, DEEP IN THE GREEN they swam, Mhairi and her sisters, sliding through the currents like silk through a wedding ring. It was dark down there, murky, with the salt sea stippling their skin and the hissing sound of their slippers swishing through the water. All round the north they had swum, and down through the waters of the Western Isles, where the beaches were white as bone and the waters turquoise and purple and as green as seas in the warmest corners of the world.




I really enjoyed The Four Marys: A Quartet of Contemporary Folk Tales. I thought it offered a good range of thematically linked tales. I liked the bled of light and dark. I did prefer the stories with a darker tone (i.e. A Faerie Child). Rafferty’s wring is engaging and well-written. I enjoyed every page.

THE SEALWOMAN: I thought this novella was great. I loved the setting and the combination of myth and reality. The ending really tugs at the heartstrings.

A FAERIE CHILD: This was a brilliant story. I found it very disturbing in part but sad as well. The novella is well-written and engaging from start to finish. I found myself racing through the pages because I was enjoying what was happening so much. The shocking moments left me speechless.

THE DIVA: This was a good story but as not as enjoyable as The Sealwoman and A Faerie Child. I found The Diva much lighter in tone than the other two. I enjoyed the darker tone of the previous two tales a bit more. This was well-written and engaging though.

THE FOUR MARYS: I really enjoyed this novella. I liked the way it moves back and forward in time from present times to the 1500’s. This novella offers a good mix of light and dark moments. The ending really shocked me.




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