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Fanciful and fun
on March 11, 2011
Susanna Kearsley writes books that are just pure fun to read, and Mariana is no exception. It is the story of Julia Beckett, and a 16th-century house that she is strangely drawn to, though she has only seen it three brief times in her life. The first was at age 5; the second was at age 25. When she stumbles on the house again at age 30, and discovers that it is uninhabited and for sale, she quickly buys it. Feeling a strong tie to the house, she gladly leaves London to take up a new life in a small village.
Julia quickly discovers the reason she has always been so drawn to the house; 300 years before it had been the home of a young woman named Mariana and, through a series of time regression events, Julia realizes that she is Mariana. Julia embraces this knowledge and eagerly steps back in time as much as possible, longing to know more about Mariana and her ultimate fate. As the past gradually unfolds it reveals Mariana's blossoming romance with a neighboring aristocrat, Richard. Over time, and through many regression episodes, Julia learns what happened to Mariana and Richard, and finally realizes that, in order to close the circle and find happiness for herself and closure for Mariana, she must find the present-day man who embodies Richard just as she embodies Mariana.
As I said, Susanna Kearsley's books are truly fun to read, and it is this fun that helped me suspend some expectations of realism that this book demands in order to fully enjoy it. Foremost is the too-glib acceptance -- by Julia and by everyone else who knows of her regressive episodes -- of Julia's embodiment of a 300-year old "ghost" and her frequent slips back in time. Her brother, a vicar, immediately suggests it must be reincarnation, without even batting an eye. Julia herself seems completely untroubled by it, almost as though such things happen to people every day. And then there is Mrs. Hutherson, a neighbor who has some strange psychic sense that enables her to know exactly what Julia is experiencing without even being told, and to know in advance how everything is going to turn out. However, I quickly accepted that this was a fun story, fanciful rather than realistic, and settled back to enjoy the ride.
A hallmark of Kearsley's books is the smooth, witty dialogue and easy friendships she always creates between her characters. People who have only just met slide effortlessly into friendships and relationships that are completely free of conflict, and even total strangers are always friendly. No, this isn't realistic (at least, not in the world I inhabit) but this, too, is part of the fun of a Susanna Kearsley book and provides the "escapist" element. I enjoy slipping into the worlds she creates, wishing I could know such witty and wonderful people myself!
Mariana was a very fast read, a nice break from "weightier" material, and Kearsley throws in a couple of nice little twists at the end. The reincarnation element was done with a light and easy hand; the book doesn't have even the hint of a sinister feeling. I didn't like this one quite as much as "The Shadowy Horses", but I like it better than her others I have read.
On a side note -- what is up with the cover? The photo doesn't go with the book at all. The story is about a young English woman in the 1990s who regresses in time back to the 1600s. The photo -- with its dark-skinned, bare arms -- looks like a woman from the Caribbean. Huh?