I talk to a lot of people about books, and a lot of people recommend books to me, particularly children’s books they loved themselves and want someone to share that love with. I try to keep track of all the recommendations and read as many as I can. I don’t always read them straight the way, but I usually get there in the end.
Several years ago a blogging friend of mine (Bevchen over at Confuzzledom) recommended a book called When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson. At the time it was out of print so I never got around to reading it until last week. Studio Ghibli who produce award winning films like the adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, are releasing their animation of When Marnie Was There, and the book is being re-released to tie in with the movie. I bought my copy at a wonderful independent book shop in Porth Madog in Wales called Browsers Bookshop.
I was so excited to find it, and it was worth the wait to read it.
Joan G. Robinson was the author of many children’s books, my favourites of which have always been the Teddy Robinson series, about a very pompous but loveable bear and his patient owner, Deborah. Teddy Robinson shares many qualities with Pooh Bear, who I also loved, and there is an equally charming humour to Teddy Robinson’s antics that still make him readable today. All my children grew up having listened to me read about Teddy Robinson, and actually prefer him to Pooh Bear.
When Marnie Was There is a rather different kettle of fish. It is a mournful, slightly eerie tale of a young, orphaned girl called Anna, sent to Norfolk by her adoptive parents after a tricky few months in which Anna fails to adjust to school and her new family. Anna is sent to live with the Peggs’, an elderly couple, unused to children, who, although kindly, have no more idea what to do with Anna than Anna does with herself.
Anna spends her days angry and alone, failing to fit in, and hating everyone including herself, until she meets Marnie. Marnie is an ethereal and elusive figure of a girl, coming and going as if by magic, but delighting Anna’s heart and making Anna feel like their friendship is the one truly right thing in the whole of Anna’s existence.
Marnie’s appearance is the catalyst for many changes in Anna’s life, and the book sees Anna blossom, and finally begin to feel comfortable in her own skin.
The story is a ghost story, but rather like Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, which it has been compared to, it is gentle and thoughtful rather than scary.
It is a spell binding story, old fashioned and slow moving and deeply affecting. It would suit dreamy teenage girls who long to fit in and feel they don’t quite really. I hope the film release introduces this lovely book to a whole new audience of readers who treasure it the way my friend did, and the way I now will.
You will find that my link takes you to the Kindle edition of the book rather than the paperback version. I was able to buy the paperback version straight from the shelf in the bookshop, but Amazon are saying that it is not available until April 2015. The Kindle edition is available for download now at a fraction of the price of the paperback if you can’t track down a copy any other way.