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Mariana
By Monica Dickens
ISBN: 0-9534780-1-7
Review by: Moira Richards

  1/1/04

Mariana, written by Monica Dickens, great-granddaughter of the more famous Charles, was first published in 1940 when she was in her early twenties and Persephone Books rescued it from near oblivion some six decades later. As it was the second novel by a woman who was to be a prolific and popular author, so was it the second title of a business venture that has become a successful and much-loved niche publishing house.

Mariana is the story of Mary Shannon whose young husband has joined the British Royal Navy to fight in World War II. The novel opens just as Mary receives news that his ship has struck a mine and been sunk, and that he may or may not be one of the officers who lost their lives. Mary, whose father was killed in the First World War before she was old enough to know him, can do nothing but wait for more information to arrive from the Admiralty. To prevent herself from dwelling on the terrors of what might be, she turns her thoughts as she waits, to memories of the past, to memories of her twenty-four-year life that seems now, to be holding its breath in suspense.

So the novel shares with the reader, the childhood and youth of Mary Shannon. We meet the loveable and not-so-loveable members of her extended family of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles; we get to know her mother, the young widow who is determined not to be a victim nor a dependant; we are introduced to the young men with whom she falls in love - some of them being, as most of us find, more worthy objects of her affections than are others.

Monica Dickens has her great-grandfather's ability to draw engaging characters with few words and to fill her books with a fine medley of people. She writes with wit and humour and if she pokes fun at some of her characters with the eye of a cartoonist, she also slows her pace at times to capture some heart-stopping moments of emotion. If you have never read this author, then you have a treat in store, but you may also find yourself condemned as am I, to scour perpetually, second-hand bookshops in search of copies of as many of her other books as you can find!

 




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