When Marnie Was There

I bought Joan G. Robinson's When Marnie Was There new, on an impulse, last year, because it's one of my favourite ever childhood books, and I decided I couldn't bear not to own it any longer. It arrived with the intriguing tag-line Major motion picture coming soon, and I now discover that a Studio Ghibli version was released in December -- so I might have to buy that on impulse too..!

My first experience of Marnie was when it was read aloud to my class, at the end of Grade 5, in Mt Hagen, in Papua New Guinea -- worlds away from the desolate Norfolk marshes where the story is set. But the gentle, wistful tale of lonely Anna and her mysterious friend Marnie gripped my imagination. At the end of the reading, the teacher asked, 'Do you think Marnie was really there?' I was indignant; of course Marnie was real, in the story. But our teacher pressed on, insisting, 'That couldn't really happen, could it? It must have been Anna's imagination.' (I wonder now why she read it to us at all, if she was so determined to deny the magic of the book!) But I was hotly resistant to any interpretation that reduced Anna and Marnie's magical connection to dry psychology. I remember the strength of my outrage, and the feeling that I was standing up for the book, somehow, that I needed to defend it. It might have been the first time that my personal interpretation of a book was ever challenged by adult authority. But I didn't give in.

Reading it again, it's just as magical as I remembered, written with such subtle skill that both interpretations are indeed possible. But I still prefer my original take on it (if there's a timey-wimey option available, I'll take it every time!) And I see now what a strong influence Marnie was on Cicada Summer; I even named one of my own characters Anna, without realising.

In many ways, When Marnie Was There is my perfect book.

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