Even though I follow a lot of reading blogs and enjoy marking posts with great book suggestions, I seldom remember to pick these up when I go to a library or a bookstore. For the last year or so , I have noticed that the Persephone Books come highly recommended. These are mostly wartime novels written by woman authors that for some reason or the other had gone out of print. I was a little hesitant to try these out and wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this genre so I went scouting for used books on Amazon and ordered the second book in the Persephone catalog.
So what are my thoughts? . Lets start with the cover art – I know its unsual for my review but the cover selection is a very important part of the Persephone publication process. It is a piece of art chosen to represent the theme of the story. Mariana’s cover is a painting of a twenty something blonde with short hair having a picnic in a park with a young man by her side. The immediate conclusion is that its the story of young modern girl in the war period and also maybe a love story. There are some sexual undertones in the poses of the couple and you wonder a little on what that means as you dive into the book.
Another thing that I would like to talk about is the quality of writing – which is far superior to most of the things that I have read recently. It may not necessarily make me want to read Monica Dickens but it will definitely make me want to read more Persephone Books because I know their editors are reliable.
Now the title – Mariana. For people like me who know nothing about poetry the title does not strike a bell. But apparently its the title of a poem by Tennyson. The opening stanza of the poem is
“ITH blackest moss the flower-pots
Were thickly crusted, one and all;
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange;
Unlifted was the clinking latch:
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!’ “
This truly sets the tone for the novel. The story is about the young Mary Shannon whose life has been irrevocably touched by war. Her father died in the first war and she has grown in the care of her fiercely independent mother. At the onset of the novel, we see Mary waiting one stormy night, to hear if her lover away at war is alive or dead. The book than dives into her childhood and basically follows a linear narrative till the end , when the suspense is relieved.
Monica Dickens character sketches are interesting and complete. Most of the characters are immensly likeable and believable. Mariana is essentially Mary’s story about her childhood and youth and her relationship with the men in her life. There is Uncle Geoff , Grandpa, cousin Denys – the relationships of her childhood. Then there is Piere from Paris and Sam the architect -the loves of her youth.
The story is also about Mary finding her true calling but that is not something that really stays with you. As you read the book , you realize that Mary is basically not exceptional at anything. She is really a very ordinary person and I think that therein lies the appeal of the story. However, I really like my heroines to be slightly strong exceptional characters so I could not build any real fondness for Mary. But there are other things to look for – interesting characters, lovely descriptions of beautiful England, dynamics of a large family, and most importantly relating to the pain of finding yourself.
In short , its a pretty decent book.