Author: Monica Dickens
Publisher: Persephone Books
It was impressive for me to have finished this book considering I found it insufferably boring. The book opens with the main character Mary, it's during World War 2 and she has just found out that a military vessel has sunk and she has no idea whether her husband is one of the rescued or a casualty. It is the middle of the night and there just so happens to be a violent storm so the telephone lines are down and she has to wait until morning before she can find out anything. The story flashes back from that point to tell Mary's entire life story from childhood; I found the reading experience to be about as interesting as watching paint dry.Monica Dickens's first book, published in 1940, could easily have been called Mariana - an Englishwoman. For that is what it is: the story of a young English girl's growth towards maturity in the 1930s. We see Mary at school in Kensington and on holiday in Somerset; her attempt at drama school; her year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; her time as a secretary and companion; and her romance with Sam. We chose this book because we wanted to publish a novel like Dusty Answer, I Capture the Castle or The Pursuit of Love, about a girl encountering life and love, which is also funny, readable and perceptive; it is a 'hot-water bottle' novel, one to curl up with on the sofa on a wet Sunday afternoon.
I do usually enjoy character driven plots but Mariana made me realise that I prefer the main character to go through some sort of hardship in order for it to be compelling to me. Mary experiences no hardship whatsoever, she maybe broke a nail one time or something equally ridiculous. There was nothing about her life that interested me in the slightest. Actually, her brief relationship with Pierre was probably the only part that I enjoyed and that was half a chapter.
There is a lot of cutting and bitchy commentary throughout the entire book, Mary is constantly judging other girls. She is harsh about their looks, weight, intelligence and even slut shames some poor girl because she had a passionate embrace with her fiancé on a bench at a party. I understand this book was originally published in 1940, but still - I guess some things never change. Mary's vitriol is even turned against herself as she buys a dress that is too small and then is full of self-loathing because one of the seams keeps popping open. Mary spends a good majority of the whole book just bemoaning at how fat she is. That is honestly as interesting as the story gets.
I found Mary to be self-absorbed, living in a privileged bubble, spoiled and vapid. She did not have a single interesting thought during the entire book. The other characters just blended into one and I really regret wasting my time struggling to finish it as it never redeemed itself. The biggest disappointment of the year so far.