Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Circle Of Marsh House

Hi Readers, who's ready for a rambling?  I am...and since it's my blog...let's get to it.  I am a Studio Ghibli and always enjoy the fact that several of the movies are inspired by books.  One day while looking through movies I found one I had never heard of before, and lo and behold it was based on a book called When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson.  The premise sounded interesting, and I always love discovering new books...especially older ones so both the book and movie got put in the basket and onto my book shelves.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!
Anna is a foster child in England who has withdrawn from everybody.  Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was very small, and her beloved grandmother died just a few short years later.  She has been taken in by a very loving couple who do their best to make her feel like their daughter.  Unfortunately between her natural reticence at getting close to anybody, and her discovery that the couple get a stipend from the government, Anna comes across as very cold.  Anna's foster mom decides to send her to her friend who lives in a sleepy little beach village.  The couple are pretty relaxed, letting Anna run around as she pleases, which suites Anna just fine.  Anna finds herself drawn to an old manor known as the Marsh House.  It is old and abandoned, yet still draws the quiet and withdrawn girl.  One day, as Anna is exploring the marsh area, she see's a girl with pale yellow hair being brushed by a maid at one of the windows of Marsh House.  This image sticks with Anna, and lo and behold one day that same girl appears in the sand dunes.  The girls name is Marnie and she makes Anna promise to keep her as her special secret friend.  As Anna is naturally quiet, this suits her just fine.  The girls have a couple of adventures and learn more about each other.  We learn that Marnie lives in the Marsh House with her nurse and two maids, all of which are borderline abusive.  They threaten Marnie with a trip to the abandon windmill if she misbehaves, which absolutely terrifies the girl.   Marnie's parents are away most of the time, leaving her all alone with the staff.  One night Marnie and Anna end up in the windmill, and get stuck.  When Anna wakes up, she is alone and very upset that Marnie would leave her.  Anna is rescued and taken back to recover as she is very sick.  As she recovers she sneaks out to try and find Marnie.  Marnie is at her window and yells down a heartfelt and tearful apology and tells Anna that she is being taken away.  Anna is understandably devastated and takes to her bed.  Anna finally decides to get back to exploring and heads to the Marsh House.  She is surprised to see a lot of activity and discovers a family with five kids has moved in for the summer.  She is drawn out of her shell and spends a lot of time with the family, finally finding a place she belongs.  One of the girls, after acting a bit weird, finally shows Anna an old diary she found in her room.  The diary belongs to Marnie and in it there are references to a special friend and a few of the events that Anna and Marnie experienced together.  They bring the diary to the mother and discover that it is over 50 years old...which puzzles Anna 'cause her hazy memories are from recent times.  Eventually they get to talk with an old family friend who grew up in the area of the Marsh House.  The whole story comes out and it turns out that Marnie was a girl who grew up with a lonely life until she got sick after a night in the windmill.  Her parents brought her back from the Marsh House, but more tragedy struck when her father died.  Marnie married her friend Edward, but he was killed in the war when their own daughter was only a couple of years old.  The daughter was sent to America to keep her safe and did not return until she was 13 years old.  At that point her relationship with her mother Marnie was strained.  The daughter ran away and had a daughter herself, who she brought back to be raised by Marnie.  The daughter and her new husband then died in a car accident leaving the child to be brought up solely by Marnie who was the only family left.  Unfortunately Marnie never got over the death of her daughter and died a few short years later...sound familiar?  That's right, Anna is Marnie's granddaughter!  Anna is very happy to finally have her family history and is able to warm up to her foster parents, who really do want her to be happy.  Anna herself becomes much happier and able to let people love her again.
World Building - The setting of this story is pretty small, a tiny little village, a marsh/beach, the house Anna stays at and the Marsh House.  That being said the world is perfectly complete.  The author was able to create not just a world, but an atmosphere that was able to transport me as a reader so completely that it was sometimes a shock when I put the book down to realize that I wasn't actually at a little English beach.  I can totally see why somebody would be inspired to make a movie after reading this, just to capture the world.

Story - The story was good.  It was a little different then I originally anticipated, as most of the blurbs tout it as a ghost story.  I feel like it is more of a circle of life type deal, with family and friends being when and where they are most needed.  The story made sense and other then a few overly convenient moments was well done.  Combined with everything else it worked well.

Character - I really liked the characters in this story.  There was a lot of introspection and growing and feeling and variety.  Each character was fully formed, each character had a story, each character stayed true to themselves, and nobody acted out of character just to further the story.  I also really liked how every single character felt well thought out was necessary for the story.

 Editing - The editing was fairly well done.  The story could have become very confusing, especially with the dream like quality that permeated the whole book, but overall the whole thing was readable and sensical.  Like I said before, other then a few small overly convenient details the book read beautifully and stayed with me.  Good editing.

Movie - The movie was made by the famous Studio Ghibli whom I love for their ability to translate atmosphere into a watchable movie, and this film was no exception.  There were a few notable exceptions from the book to film, the biggest being that it was set in Japan instead of England which was both odd and kind of cool, it was like seeing the same story in two different views.  The thing I didn't like so much is that they made Anna a bit more aggressive and almost mean, where in the book she was just withdrawn and stoic.  I also felt the movie was a wee bit rushed compared to the book.  Overall though the signature atmosphere, introspectiveness and sheer beauty were all there, just like I wanted.

Nostalgia - So one of the things that really struck me about this book was the sense of nostalgia it gave me.  This is totally a book I would have LOVED and read over and over back when I was in the 10-12ish age.  I really enjoyed reading this book now, but really wish I had been able to read it when I was younger because I can see it becoming one of my favorite.  I'm not 100% sure why I am so sure my younger self would have been so into this book.  Maybe it reminds me of the books I read when I was younger, maybe I can see myself pulling it off of the library shelf and curling up in my yard, maybe I can see myself forcing my siblings to act it out, maybe it was my affinity for imaginary friends, who knows.  Every once in a while I will get a book like this, where as much as I enjoy it as an adult, I really want to go back in time and give myself some of these books.

Ghost Story - This book was touted as a ghost story...but it really wasn't...but it kind of was.  It is really hard to really put this in any one category 'cause it really doesn't follow any rules...which I love.  The mechanism of the interaction between Marnie and Anna is never fully explained.  We know that they both had the same experiences because Anna remembers them, even if it is a bit muddled and Marnie records them in her diary, even if Anna's name is never actually mentioned.  I don't think that this pairing needs a "scientific" or "realistic" explanation.  I like to think that these two souls that were connected by blood and love found each other at their loneliest and helped each other survive.  I am good with the idea that love can transcend time and space and I'm gonna leave it at that.

Overall Impression - I really enjoyed this book, it was different and surprising and atmospheric and stuck with me in a good way.  I will probably reread it in late spring/early summer as it feels like it should be a seasonal book, but regardless I really liked it.  I give it 8 out of 10 sand castles with gardens and recommend it to anybody who wants a story with heart or is looking for one for their kiddos with out too much of the yucky stuff.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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