Tag Archives: Catherine Storr

Book Review Saturday – ‘Marianne Dreams’

You might remember this high-octane drama from a couple of weeks ago, where I enlisted the help of all y’all all over the Internet to help me track down a book I’d read and loved as a tiny person, but whose title I couldn’t remember. I had no idea of the author’s name, either. All I could remember was a mysterious drawing of a house, with a person inside one of the upstairs windows, and a malevolent ring of standing stones outside, keeping the prisoner captive.

Just like this, in fact! This is a still from the 1990 movie 'Paperhouse,' based on the book 'Marianne Dreams.' Next on my list of things to track down. Image: landofcerptsandhoney.blogspot.com

Just like this, in fact! This is a still from the 1990 movie ‘Paperhouse,’ based on the book ‘Marianne Dreams.’ Next on my list of things to track down.
Image: landofcerptsandhoney.blogspot.com

Well, in case you missed it, the sorry saga had a happy resolution. I found the book, and immediately whisked off an email to my ex-colleagues in my favourite bookshop, and a few days later it plopped through my letterbox.

I think I lasted about two hours before I started doing that whole ‘new book smell!’ thing.

You know the one I mean. Image: thesmellofbooks.com

You know the one I mean.
Image: thesmellofbooks.com

After that, it was only another couple of hours before I had it digested.

So. Was it as good as I’d remembered?

Well. The short answer is ‘no’. That’s not to say it isn’t a fabulous book – because it is, absolutely. I still love it as much as I ever did, because the feeling it gave me as a child is still there, crackling away at the base of my skull. The terror it inspired in my eight-year-old self will never leave, and that, of course, is a brilliant thing. Reading it as an adult does let me see it in a different light, of course, one which points up all the things that could now be seen as faults and flaws – the gaps in the story, the fact that all the characters sound the same, the repetition, the telling and showing and then telling a bit more – but the best thing about finding it again is this: I can still understand, very clearly, why this book stuck with me for the best part of thirty years. I am so glad I found it again, and that I can put it up with my other favourites, the books which shaped the person I am today.

Straight away, we are introduced to Marianne, who starts to feel really unwell on her long-awaited tenth birthday. Her temperature spikes, her appetite disappears, and her worried mother summons the doctor. Her birthday dinner is thrown away uneaten, and the celebrations stop.

Marianne is quite seriously ill.

Confined to bed for weeks on end, unable to even cross the room to pick up a book to read, she grows more and more irritable and frustrated. Catherine Storr, the author, conveys Marianne’s pain very effectively, and we really feel for this small girl, cooped up indoors with bright summer weather streaming in her windows. She gets used to doing things from bed, which includes helping her mother sort through her great-grandmother’s old antique workbox, in which, one day, she finds a pencil. It’s not a particularly beautiful or well-made pencil; it simply looks friendly, and easy to draw with, and helpful. This is the pencil, Marianne thinks, which will make my visions come truthfully out of my head, through my fingers and onto the page.

And so she draws.

The first thing she draws – for it is always the first thing she draws – is a house. It is, she thinks, as unsatisfactory as ever. Lopsided, windows misaligned, out of proportion. But she gives it some trailing smoke from the chimney, adds a fence and some standing stones, some tall whispery grass, and some large flowers.

When Marianne dreams that night, she is standing in a wide open field full of swishing, long grass, and a house – a strangely familiar house – stands before her, surrounded by a fence and a jumble of standing stones.  She goes through the gate and up the garden path, and right up to the the front door of the house – but it has no knocker or bell, and she feels desperately sure that she must get inside. Something about the wide prairie landscape all around her makes her afraid. But her small knuckles get bruised against the wood of the door, and there’s nobody inside the house to let her in. Put someone in the house, a whishing, mysterious voice tells her.

Back in her own world the following day, Marianne makes a few adjustments to the house. She adds a face at the upstairs window, and she places a knocker and letterbox on the front door. Her great-grandmother’s pencil draws well – and, as she learns, it cannot be erased.

In her next dream, Marianne returns to the house. She notices a small pale face in the window upstairs, and when she knocks a boy opens the window. He is Mark, who is trapped inside, unable to walk. ‘I can’t get downstairs,’ he tells her. ‘There’s no staircase in this house.’

So, the next day, Marianne adds one. Eventually, she manages to get inside the house, and every time she dreams she and Mark try to figure out where they are, and why he’s trapped. Every day in her ‘real’ life, Marianne draws the things Mark needs – a bed, some food, a bicycle to help his polio-wizened legs to strengthen – and every night they plot their escape.

Then, one day, in a fit of irritation at Mark, Marianne adds eyes – narrowed, peering, cruel eyes – to the stones outside the house, and then the trouble really starts.

There are some genuinely chilling moments here, particularly in relation to the spying stones and the voices the children hear, warning them that they must escape and that they’re being pursued; I can totally see my tiny self reading with trembling hands as the children’s attempts to get away from the house are described. Marianne’s ‘double life’, and the fact that Mark exists in her ‘real’ world, too, mean that the book is interestingly layered and textured; the realities of polio, and the horrors of that disease and the effects it had on the children who suffered from it, are sobering. I loved the childlike logic that dictates Marianne’s choices of what to draw next, and their rather ingenious plan of escape, and I loved the horror that still fizzes through the pages.

The fact that everyone sounds like a middle-aged businessman is a bit of a disappointment, but that’s to be expected from a book first published in 1958, I suppose. There’s lots of ‘my dear girl,’ ‘awfully sorry,’ ‘frightfully kind,’ and that sort of thing.

In short, if you’re willing to overlook the fact that this book sounds a little dated, I would say track down a copy and give it a go. It’s unlike any other children’s book I’ve ever read, and – if for nothing else but the sheer imagination needed to dream it up (no pun intended) – it’s worth a try.

Still from 'Escape into Night', a TV miniseries adaptation of the book from 1972, showing Marianne (Vikki Chambers) and Mark (Steven Jones) inside the upstairs room of the house. Image: werewolf.co.nz

Still from ‘Escape into Night’, a TV miniseries adaptation of the book from 1972, showing Marianne (Vikki Chambers) and Mark (Steven Jones) inside the upstairs room of the house.
Image: werewolf.co.nz

Earth Alpha – and a Bookish Miracle

Huzzah! Let joy be unconfined! My Bookish Mystery has been solved.

Yesterday evening – as a direct result of my blog appeal for help in tracing a book I knew I’d read as a little girl, but whose author and title I’d long forgotten – I got a message which said: ‘Is this it?’

It was, dear readers. It was.

I think this was even the cover of the edition I read as a kid. Image: found0bjects.blogspot.com

I think this was even the cover of the edition I read as a kid.
Image: found0bjects.blogspot.com

The book is called Marianne Dreams, and the author – who sadly died in 2001 – was Catherine Storr. Embarrassingly, the book now has its own Wikipedia page and everything; if I’d just run another Google search, I probably could have found it myself. I hadn’t actually looked for it for a few years, since long before the age of Wikipedia and the excellent Google that we have now. But no matter.

The book that has haunted me for nearly thirty years has been tracked down.

I found a reissued edition from 2006 which is still in print, and I’ve already ordered it from my favourite bookshop, which also happens to be the place in which I used to work as a bookseller. They’re used to me and my oddnesses there. I cannot wait to have this story in my hands again, and I cannot wait to read it and see whether the terrifying power it had over my brain as a kid is still there.

I am so excited.

I remember this illustration, in particular – it was always the top right-hand window of the house in the drawing that made me quiver inside, and it was this image that convinced me the right book had been found.

Image: gaskella.wordpress.com

Image: gaskella.wordpress.com

That’s the window to the room where Mark – a little boy, not a little girl, as I’d remembered – is being held captive by the power of the standing stones all around. I wasn’t mixing it up with Penelope Lively, after all; there was a stone circle in this book, too. Perhaps there’s hope for my aged memory banks yet.

Anyway. Thank you to everyone who retweeted my appeal and offered suggestions, and I’ll let y’all know in a few weeks whether the book is as good as, or better than, I remembered.

Image: ololbhills.catholic.edu

Image: ololbhills.catholic.edu

It also, in all likelihood, hasn’t escaped your notice that today is Friday. That means – yesirree – it’s Flash! Friday again. This week, the required element to include was ‘Space Travel’, and the prompt image was this fine photograph here:

Bicycle tunnel, double exposure. CC photo by r. nial bradshaw. Image: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Bicycle tunnel, double exposure. CC photo by r. nial bradshaw.
Image: flashfriday.wordpress.com

So, this is what I made of it:

Earth Alpha

Dan didn’t bother hailing; his words just boomed right through my skull, out of nowhere. I adjusted the volume on my CochliCall as he spoke.

‘Nico!’ he said. ‘Where are you?’

‘Oh, hey, Dan. Thanks for yelling.’

‘Shut up, and get over here. It’s happening!’

‘But – this early?’

Dan just tssked, and disconnected.

I had to think fast. Dad – working. Mom, offworld. Dan and me had sworn, as kids, that we’d watch the landing together, and I was going to keep my promise.

But that didn’t solve my immediate problem – transport.

Then, I remembered. Great-great-gramp’s bike!

I skidded to the garage. Dad kept it in good nick, for nostalgia’s sake, but I’d never learned how to operate it. I did my best.

As I rode, I watched the sky. Earth Omega was beautiful, and all, but I couldn’t wait to see Earth Alpha. Our origin planet, long abandoned.

I smiled, pedalling faster. Maybe now, we could finally start going home.

***

So, that’s where I’m at this Friday morning – dreaming of worlds unknown, some of them made from words. I hope a wonderful day awaits you all.