Monday, October 29, 2012

When Marnie Was There by Joan Robinson (Book Review)

Title: When Marnie Was There
Author: Joan G. Robinson     Illustrated: Peggy Fortnum
Publication Information: Armada paperback, original pub date 1967
Genre: Children’s Fiction / Time Slip
Plot: Lonely Anna, an inarticulate orphan who lives with a kindly older couple who do not understand her, goes to stay in Norfolk with their friends after being ill with asthma. Exploring the area, she is entranced by the Marsh House on a creek nearby and by Marnie, an outgoing girl her age who appears and disappears mysteriously from the house. When Marnie is there, she is the perfect friend – she is imaginative and comes up with great games – but the reader guesses she is not real and the locals think Anna is talking to herself. As in Tom’s Midnight Garden, the loneliness of two children in the same place but many years apart results in a friendship that transcends time. Although her friendship with Marnie is not without sadness (which she does not understand), it helps prickly Anna learn how to be a friend and how to accept affection. The outgoing Lindsay family that moves into the old house on the creek after Marnie disappears for good completes the process, showing Anna what it is like to be part of a large and lively family and helping her come to terms with her foster parents and the birth family she feels abandoned her.
What I liked: I always enjoy books about mysterious houses in the (usually) English country and am even more devoted to stories about plucky orphans (as if you hadn't guessed). Add some time travel or time slip* and I am delighted. The author’s description of Anna’s fey friendship with Marnie is contrasted convincingly with the outgoing Lindsay family which embraces Anna and gives her the confidence she desperately needs. Anna wasn’t exactly plucky to begin with – she is sullen and somewhat despairing when the story begins but her maturation is both convincing and heartwarming. The reader, who always knew that the adults in Anna’s life cared about her, is reassured that moving forward Anna will no longer be an isolated observer from the sidelines. One is also glad that the Prestons, her kind foster parents, will have an improved relationship with Anna in the future.

I recognized the name of the illustrator, Peggy Fortnum, but could not immediately identify her other work (more than 65 books, it turns out). She is best known for her illustrations of Paddington but some of her work is expensively for sale.

What I disliked: I am not a fan of time slip/time travel where it turns out to have all been a dream. I was worried things were going that way in the second half of the book so was delighted when there was proof that Anna had not imagined her encounters with Marnie.

Source: I read this as a child and finally bought my own paperback copy in 1989.  I was reminded of this delightful story by someone on Shelf Discovery.

* Time Travel vs. Time Slip

Fans of these genres may dispute the difference between time travel and time slip but for my purpose today time travel involves traveling through time into the past or into the future whereas a time slip involves a rift in the fabric of time that allows travel between two or more periods of time. It is definitely more gradual and the character does not always recognize what is happening, as here. In this book, Marnie and Anna do not physically travel but Anna slips back to Marnie’s time.

What do you think?

2014 News

A Japanese anime film of When Marnie Was There has been made, written and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, produced by Studio Ghibli, and based on the novel, which is known as Omoide no Marnie in Japan.  Here is a link to the trailer.   I got it from the library and watched with my mother, nephews, and niece; it was pleasant but too slow-paced for us.   However, the good news is that is has got the book back in print.


Unknown said...

So glad to find this :)

I finished the book today and I have to say that it caught me by surprise. I suspected a lot of things when I was reading along like maybe Anna is a bit delusional or maybe Marnie is a bit delusional or they both are. Or maybe Marnie is a ghost. I thought all of that.

But never did it occur to me that the story could take such a turn. Reminds me of that part of the tv show LOST where Desmond slips back in time and forth.

The most goose-bumpy and exciting time is when you've read the book and understood it and then you remember those small little details in the book that now make perfect sense. Anna and Marnie both claiming that they caught each other by surprise at different times, the sneaky fashion in which Marnie would pop up around Anna and she never saw her coming.

When you absorb this book at the end and realize what happened and then look back at all the things that happened, the little details and such, this book definitely becomes something that will haunt you for a while.

Patricia said...

Being a very big fan of Stidio Ghibli, I couldn't wait to purchase their latest "When Marnie was there". I've watched the film 3 times now and am enjoying discovering the little clues and subtleties that you miss the first time.
I also was thrilled to find out that it's based on a book that is in English and still in print. Frequently I read books after I fall in love with the movie, and Marnie will be next. Can't wait to see what the actual story is like. I want to know the details about Marnie's past that didn't make it into the Ghibli movie.
My daughter and I both agree that the story would make a wonderful "mild" horror live action movie. Who knows. Since Universal Studios was art of the production, maybe it'll happen.

CLM said...

Patricia, I haven't seen the movie yet but I am glad to hear it stands up to repeat viewing. In the book, Marnie is fairly sullen although the reader understands why and sympathizes with her.

CLM said...

I finally got the movie from Netflix and saw it last week, watching it with my mother and 12, 10 and 6 year old nephews and niece. They felt it was hard to follow, not having read the book. The children who like animation enjoyed it more than my mother and I, who felt the pace was too slow. I think I would need to see something else from Studio Ghibli to be more informed about his work.