Monica Dickens – Mariana
I bought this book back in January, simply because the blurb likened it to I Capture The Castle, and ended up “saving” it for the Persephone Reading Week (hosted by Verity and Claire). I had great expectations from this book (if you may excuse the totally unnecessary pun), not only because of the blurb comparing it to one of my favourite books from last year, but also because the writer is Charles Dickens’ great-granddaugher, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The title of this book is inspired by Tennyson’s Mariana:
She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary;
I would that I were dead!”
and it’s the story of a young girl, Mary, reflecting on her life as a child, teenager and finally, an adult. In the opening chapter itself, Mary hears the news that a British Destroyer has sunk, and the next-of-kin of those departed have been informed. There are some survivors. There’s a storm outdoors, the telephone lines are down, and there’s nothing she can do in that point in time to find out whether she’s going to be the recipient of good news, or bad; whether her dearest has survived or not.
While she restlessly awaits the morning to go into town, she reflects on her life – from the time she was eight years old until now. The idyllic visits to her grandparents’ estate in Chabury during the vacations, the stress of school, her hilarious experience at a school for drama, her fantastic year in Paris (being courted by the romantic Pierre) and of course, the “happily ever after” before now.
I don’t know what it is about the name “Mary,” but the characters are oft’ quite contrary (as in the nursery rhyme). The protagonist of the Dickens’ novel is no different. She’s spoilt, wants her own way most of the time, and her mother normally gives in.
“You’re so utterly wrapped up in yourself that you have no interests outside your own egotism. You’ve obviously been accustomed to having your own way all your life – someone to do this and that for you, to listen to your complaints and pander to your moods -”
Despite that, I found myself rooting for Mary through the book – her naivety coupled with her innocence and idealism make her quite a charming character. There were times she was annoying, and deserved to be put in place, though, and at some points she just seemed very weak-minded and self-pitying. Was it the childhood romance gone wrong? Or, the indulgent Uncle who lived with her and her mother? Or, just a part of growing up, struggling with identity and desiring independence?
The writing is humorous, and the book an easy, “fun” read. It’s not like one giant reflection on her life. Instead, it’s like numerous continuous flashbacks, with no nod to the present.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and half-wish I’d read it when I was still a teenager. While I had no trouble relating to Mary now, I think I’d've loved her much much more when I was sixteen.
Have you read any other Monica Dickens? Would you recommend them?
And how’s your Persephone Reading Week coming along?
Filed under: Books 2010, Coming of Age, General Fiction, Monica Dickens, Persephone Books, Persephone Classics, Review | 33 Comments
Tags: London, Monica Dickens, Paris, World War II