Mariana by Monica Dickens

This book is a delicious feast of Britishness, which may not appeal to everybody but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's filled with summers in the country, English schoolgirls and tea-times, all in Monica Dickens' light and homey writing.

The story begins with Mary recently married and biding her time through the long days and nights for her husband to return from war. She is sitting by the fire one evening as a storm rages outside, when she hears it announced on the wireless that the ship on which her husband is serving struck a mine earlier that day and has gone down. It is feared that a number of the ship's officers and crew have been lost.

As Mary waits for the night and the storm to end so she can get to a working telephone, her thoughts take her back through the years to her childhood and her life in a city flat with her mother and uncle Geoffrey. She thinks about summers at her beloved Charbury where aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins all gathered for holidays. She remembers "...all the trivial, momentous, exciting, everyday things that had gone to make the girl who lay in the linen-scented darkness waiting to hear whether her husband were alive or dead."

The appealing thing about "Mariana" is that it is about everyday things. It's a satisfying story of an ordinary girl who has friendships, crushes, problems at school and all the little successes and failures that make up a life. It was refreshing after the more serious Edith Wharton and Willa Cather novels.

I wondered right till the end why it was called "Mariana" when the main character's name is Mary. It finally made sense in the last chapter where there are quotes from Tennyson's poem of that same name. I'll stop there and not ruin if for you by telling you how it ends.

Some of my favourite lines:

About a woman she was working for..."With the naivete of wealth, she seemed equally oblivious both of annoyance and ridicule, but Mary suffered agonies of English embarrassment on her behalf."

About a nurse..."She roared with laughter and went crackling and rustling away on her large squeaking rubber soles to arrange the flowers with less artistry than was humanly possible."

"Mariana" was lovely, a pleasant book perfect for summer, which, thank goodness, has finally decided to show up.


Roof Beam Reader said...

Hmm... not really sure if this one would be for me, but it would definitely be interesting to read something written by the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens.

Ordinary Reader said...

Adam, it probably is more of a "girl's" book. You might like "My Turn To Make The Tea" though. It's her own story about a period in her life when she was working for a publisher. She has others called "One Pair of Hands" and "One Pair of Feet" that chronicle two other periods in her life that I haven't read yet but hope to soon. It's funny reading her because knowing who she is, I couldn't help but look for similarities in the writing, but she's nothing like her great-grandfather at all. I love her books though.

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