Making amends for the past.
Publisher: Allison & Busby
First Published: 1994
Date Reviewed: 17th April 2016
Julia moves into a little house in a lovely village that she had always admired. Very soon she’s experiencing very realistic daydreams wherein she’s herself but not quite, a historical person rather like her. It happens everywhere – the big old house, her own house, and outside. It’s worrying – one day she’s spotted pottering around oblivious to the road traffic – but also too mysterious not to follow. Someone many many years in the past experienced much sadness and Julia feels the need to work it out. And whilst her brother may have his reservations – her safety is at stake, after all – it seems others in the village might have played a role back then, too, including the rather handsome lord of the manor.
Mariana adheres to that particularly special set of mixed genres so many love: it’s a historical time-slip romance. And it’s an excellent one.
The story goes a bit further than your usual haunting or time-slip shadows idea, presenting you with a character who is both the modern day time ‘slipee’ and the ghost; Julia is ‘Julia’ during her waking and non-daydream hours and ‘Mariana’ in the opposite. It’s an excellent concept that plays right into the idea of reincarnation, karma, and unfinished business, and it’s not just Julia in the mix – there’s a suitor or two and a friend or three there, as well.
It really is very special and as it was written in the 90s there are no phones or computers to divert attention. It harkens back to days of yore when people spent more time outside – for many readers it’ll be as much a nostalgic trip as a historical time-slip, and it’s topped off by Julia’s career as a book illustrator; she’s all about drawing.
If you like nature and villages, this one’s for you. Rather than the totally stereotypical accent-full northern Cotswold village, or the Cornish seaside, Kearsley opts for Exbury in Wiltshire which is less romantic than some but makes sure you don’t get too carried away with the present. With this book you want to stay in the past until Aunt Freda says it’s time to move on.
The writing is fair. There are a few errors, understandable considering the author’s nationality, but nothing to stop you reading. Indeed it may surprise you that it’s Kearsley’s first book – there are niggles and perhaps hints that she’s following a well trodden path but it’s a very competent piece of work. It’s hard to put down even when you know where it’s headed. The ending may leave the question of ‘what about so and so…?’ unanswered but it’s not frustrating or ambiguous.
And when it’s predictable? It doesn’t matter – this book is all about the journey, the ride. As one of the characters says, Julia is on a journey and it will come to an end – we begin at the start and finish where she leaves off. There’s no superfluity here and only minimal, planned, convenience.
Mariana is a historical dream, a romantic’s wish, a reader’s demands satisfied. It is quite something.
October 10, 2016, 2:32 pm
I love Susanna Kearsley. I never thought I would when I first started hearing about her, but sometimes authors click in unexpected ways!
October 11, 2016, 6:13 pm
You probably know by now how I much I love Kearsley. I am really pleased to hear you enjoyed Mariana so much – it is definitely up there as one my favourites.
October 11, 2016, 8:29 pm
It’s funny how books from the 1990s feel so dated now, isn’t it? I loved this one – I enjoy reading time-slip novels and I thought Julia’s transitions from one period to another felt very smooth and convincing. This is one of my favourite Kearsley novels, along with The Firebird.
October 15, 2016, 10:10 pm
Kailana: That’s interesting – what made you think you wouldn’t like her work in the beginning?
Jessica: I think if it weren’t for your posts it would’ve taken me longer to start my journey :) I’ve copies of Season of Storms and Shadowy Horses – which should I pick next? (Also got The Firebird – best left until after another book?)
Helen: Yes; technology’s moved so fast. Even the early 2000s seem ages away! Agreed, it was done very well. I managed to get a hardback of The Firebird. Such a gorgeous book!
October 16, 2016, 8:06 pm
While not my favourite Shadowy Horses was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I also have Season of Storms on my TBR pile and I haven’t read The Firebird yet either, however I have heard many other readers/bloggers rate it as their favourite. So I would probably pick Shadowy Horses next.
October 17, 2016, 8:56 am
Shadowy Horses it is, then :) Which is your favourite? I know I should know and remembering reading it on your blog at some point, but it’s eluding me!
October 18, 2016, 5:42 pm
My favourite is The Rose Garden followed very closely by Mariana.