Mariana, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


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Review by

The second Persephone title I’ve read and just as delightful as the first. Wryly humourous in some parts, wistful and gritty in others. Excellent cast of characters.

Review by

Mariana is the story of one young girl’s growth towards adulthood during the 1920s and ‘30s. The book begins when Mary Shannon is eight, and traveling with her somewhat flighty mother to Charbury, her grandparents’ house; and continues up through the time that Mary is twenty-four and waiting to hear news of her husband from the war.Monica Dickens (a great-granddaughter of Charles) depicts Mary’s maturation to adulthood with perfection. The reader sympathizes with Mary as she experiences the ups and downs of relationships and careers—experimenting with both seems to be pretty characteristic of Mary, as she grapples a bit with identity and independence. And yet, there isn’t the usual amount of teenage angst that one usually finds in a novel about growing up, which I found to be very refreshing. Mary is a sweet and sometimes naïve girl, but at the same time, she’s also wonderfully sarcastic towards her peers. She’s hard to like at times, but in an odd way, I found myself sympathizing with her.Even without reading the preface of the novel, one can tell that the author borrowed a lot from her own life to write this book. The tone of the book, with its triumphs and disappointments, absolutely rings true. Mariana, which takes its title from the Tennyson poem, is now the third Persephone book I’ve read. It’s a lighthearted and lovely book, as Persephones usually are.

Review by

25 Dec 2009 - from BridgetSomehow, I've bought this book for quite a few people but didn't have a copy of my own until Bridget bought me one for Christmas. From the atmospheric start to this book, where we find Mary in a remote cottage with her dog, waiting for news of... someone... I was hooked. With the frame set in Essex, we then follow Mary back through her somewhat uneventful life between the wars, in a charming portrait of the trials of being a poorer relative, without a father, in thrall to your glamorous cousins and trying to find your way. London, the countryside and Paris are all beautifully described and, as Mary encounters several different gentlemen, we always have those opening scenes at the back of our mind - of whom, exactly, is she waiting for news, and are they worthy of her attention? I particularly liked the portrayal of adult London life through the eyes of the young Mary, and enjoyed a character who is not always attractive, or indeed interesting, but so well drawn.Only aspect I really didn't like was the casual anti-Semitism - I suppose this has to be read as being "of its time" and it's not as bad as some other novels of the period!

Review by
Mariana is the second book from Persephone, which publishes "mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women." Published in 1940, it is essentially a coming of age story about an ordinary English woman, and on the basis of that description might easily be dismissed. But what makes Mariana such a charming read is its structure. The book opens with our heroine, Mary, ensconced in a holiday cottage with her dog, Bingo, and a raging storm outdoors. She hears some upsetting news on the radio, but the weather prevents her venturing out to obtain more information. Instead, the reader is treated to the story of Mary's life, from idyllic childhood summers in the country, through her school days and young adulthood in London. Mary grows up surrounded by interesting and influential characters. Her widowed, independent mother fosters a sense of independence in her daughter, even as Mary with school and vocational training. Mary's uncle Geoffrey, an actor, lives with Mary and her mother. His carefree approach to life strikes Mary as much more desirable than her mother's constant worry about having enough money for life's basic necessities. Mary’s first love is her cousin Denys, and it takes years for her to understand their close relationship can be nothing more than platonic. But she is resilient and every relationship with a man teaches her more about what she needs from life and love. By the time we arrive at those moments in the cottage, we are fully invested in Mary's story and learning the details behind the news report. Monica Dickens reveals those details and wraps up Mary’s story in a most clever fashion. All in all, a very satisfying read.

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