Book Review:  Oh, Susanna, I Want Another “Mariana”

Book My actual cover
My 1995 copy of “Mariana” is showing its age – creased, well-worn and well-loved.

Publication Date:  1995

Short version:  Four roses out of four.

Long version:

When I purchased Susanna Kearsley’s latest book, Bellwether, I was hoping for another Mariana, Kearsley’s 1995 book.

Bellewether is not another Mariana.

I’m not saying Bellewether isn’t a good story – it is.  All 12 of Kearsley’s books are good stories.  But over the years, as I read each one, I was always hoping for another…

Mariana.

Because it is one of my all-time favorite, if-I-was-stuck-on-a-deserted-island-and-could-only-have-one book…

Mariana would be it.

Red Lion Pub
Kearsley used structures in Avebury, Wiltshire for inspiration in “Mariana”:  The Red Lion pub…

I don’t know why Mariana has stayed with me all this time – perhaps that’s like asking why you’ve been close friends with someone for years.  You just are, and you don’t question your good fortune.

Mariana is set Wiltshire, in the southwest English countryside, and the lead character and first-person narrator is 30-year-old Julia Beckett, an illustrator of children’s books.  Julia leaves her life in London when she purchases Greywethers, an old farmhouse she’d seen once as a child and had, inexplicably, found again.

Greywethers turns out to be a portal between Julia’s world and the 17th century, so this story is what some would call “time travel.”

But Mariana is not like so many time travel stories; there are no sci-fi explosions, no flashing lights, no mysterious machine transporting Julia – and the reader – back three centuries.  In fact, Julia does nothing to bring this about – she’s just slipped seamlessly from one century to another, and back again.

Unwillingly at first and then…willingly.

Geoff's wing of the manor house
Richard and Geoff’s Crofton Hall is Avebury Manor in real life…Richard, oh, Richard…

In the 17th century Julia is fully aware that she’s Julia, while her physical self is that of Mariana Farr, a young woman whose parents are dead.  With nowhere else to go, Mariana has left plague-ridden London for her uncle’s house in Wiltshire.

The house is Greywethers.

As Mariana, Julia interacts with other 17th century people, and no one suspects that Mariana isn’t what she appears to be.  Some of these people are critical to the journey Julia must make to resolve the love story that began with Mariana 300 years earlier, and is continued into Julia’s modern world.

Mariana is wonderfully written, and I never get tired of re-reading it.  The first time I read a book there’s the pleasure of surprise; subsequent readings offer the pleasure of anticipation.  I know exactly what’s going to happen, and welcome the chance to again join Julia on her journey.

Greywethers inspiration Avebury Wiltshire
Mariana and Julia’s Greywethers, also located in Avebury, where the mystery begins.

But in addition to being a wonderfully satisfying story, I think Mariana resonates with me because it’s also about second chances.

And who doesn’t want one of those?

Second chances, historical fiction, mystery, romance, and suspense that will keep you wondering – will Julia get it right this time?

And characters that stay with you.

They’ve stayed with me since 1995.

And I have no intention of parting with them.

second-chance-SQUARE_edited-1

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