Monday, October 29, 2012

When Marnie Was There (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?

No comments: