Mariana, Monica Dickens
First Published 1940
Persephone Book #2
I’m going to start by making a pretty bold claim: this is my new favorite Persephone Book. I had very high expectations going into Mariana – I even listed it as one of my five-star TBR pile predictions – and I am thrilled to say it surpassed those expectations. In my opinion, it’s a perfect novel; its only flaw being that it had to end.
Simply put, Mariana was a joy to read. I’m sure I had a smile on my face throughout most of its 377 pages. The novel opens during the first year of WWII, with our heroine Mary Shannon anxiously awaiting news of the fate of her naval husband. His ship has gone down, and due to a power outage from a thunderstorm, Mary faces an interminable night before she will be able to learn whether he is listed among the dead. To stay sane, she reminisces over her life up until this point. The novel then jumps back into the past.
We view glimpses of Mary’s childhood; focusing on the idyllic holidays spent at her grandparents’ estate, Charbury. Here, Mary frolics with her cousins, and experiences her first love and her first heartbreak. We also spend time with Mary as she suffers through school, loss, and the growing pains of an awkward adolescence. Next comes an ill-advised stint at drama school, before a sojourn in Paris where she studies design and falls for a sophisticated Frenchman.
After a disastrous engagement, Mary returns to London where fate introduces her to her soul mate. An adorable romance leads to a wedding, and a honeymoon in Italy that is cut short by the storm clouds of war. The novel then returns to the present: the morning after that sleepless, stormy night, which will determine Mary’s future.
This delightful read is a coming-of-age novel that is still as relatable today as it would’ve been when it was published in 1940. There are so many brilliant moments that ring true to life. In addition to being an honest portrayal of growing up, and an engaging look at life in the ’20s and ’30s, it is also deeply funny. Mary’s final drama school performance, her disappointing haircut, and her bout of appendicitis are merely a few of my favorite comedic moments.
Monica Dickens’ characters feel like old friends, and I enjoyed every moment I spent with them. If you were to tell me that this was a memoir instead of a novel, I would absolutely believe you. Mary’s an endearing protagonist; and I adored her mother, Uncle Gregory, and her final love interest as well. The ending – as loathe as I was to see it come -was beyond perfect. I even let out a little cheer.
Mariana is a charming, comforting, and comedic coming-of-age novel that I cannot recommend highly enough. I so wish Monica Dickens had written a sequel; but I’ll have to be satisfied with reading this gem again and again in the future. I’m already eagerly anticipating my reunion with Mary and her family and friends.
A Few of my favorite quotes:
“Mary sometimes heard people say: ‘I can’t bear to be alone.’ She could never understand this. All her life she had needed the benison of occasional solitude, and she needed it now more than ever. If she could not be with the man she loved, then she would rather be by herself.”
“Nothing that ever happens in life can take away the fact that I am me. So I have to go on being me.”
“It was with a shock of pitying surprise that she realized, in later years, that the grown-ups had missed the paradise which the children found so easily.”
“But Mariana was wrong. You couldn’t die. You had to go on. When you were born, you were given a trust of individuality that you were bound to preserve. It was precious. The things that happened in your life, however closely connected with other people, developed and strengthened that individuality. You became a person.”