When Marnie was There
By Joan G Robinson (Lion) or Collins
Anna is a lonely young orphan sent to live with foster parents who are kind but unable to penetrate her thick wall of sadness and introspection. Anna does not care for anything, she is indifferent to the girls at school who don’t invite her to play, and she is almost deadened to her feelings. She doesn’t expect to make friends – she has decided she is always on the outside.
”She knew perfectly well… that things like parties and best friends and going to tea with people was fine for everyone else, because everyone else was ‘inside’ – inside some sort of invisible magic circle. But Anna herself was outside. And so these things had nothing to do with her.’
After a bout of asthma, her guardians send her to a small Norfolk village for the summer. Here she meets another solitary little girl, Marnie, whose warmth and openness break down her barriers. This is the first friend Anna has ever made and she is thrilled with the unusual friendship, which Marnie insists they must keep secret. As her dependence on seeing Marnie grows, so does her confusion over Marnie’s sometimes elusive and shadowy appearances. Her appearances are not just unpredictable, but often impossibly sudden as Anna will see her at the far end of the beach in one moment, but right next to her a second later.
The first half of the story builds to a climax when Marnie disappears and Anna meets a happy, busy and noisy family of five children who come to stay for the holidays. As she learns to trust them and enjoy their friendship, she realises that Marnie has helped her to become a friend. The ultimate climax is a complete twist in the tale that leaves you still pondering the otherworldly friendship of Marnie.
A deeply beautiful book that captured my imagination as a child. The writing is wonderfully descriptive and the haunting atmosphere of a windswept beach and the little figures of the two young girls running along the marshes filled my romantic visions of true friendship amidst isolation. It is also filled with many wise words that shaped so many of my childhood thoughts.
‘Being loved, oddly enough, is one of the things that helps us to grow up.’