Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr

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Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Marianne Dreams is an eerie story of menace and threat and also a morality tale about the importance of facing one's fears. It's a rattling good read for children in the last years of primary school, but perhaps not for the over-sensitive child.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: April 2000
Publisher: Faber Children's Books
ISBN: 0571202128

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Marianne is bored. She is recuperating from a nasty illness and her doctor has prescribed a lengthy period of bed rest. Her usually sunny disposition has disappeared and in its place has come boredom, irritability, frustration and that dreadfully debilitating kind of tiredness that comes from having done absolutely nothing for days and days and days and days and endless days.

As a last resort to amuse her depressed daughter, Marianne's mother fetches her trinket box for Marianne to sort through and play with. Inside it, Marianne finds a pencil she cannot remember ever seeing before. It is an ordinary looking pencil; stubby, and in need of sharpening, but something about it attracts Marianne and she takes and begins to draw. She draws a house, a garden, a boy at the window. That night, Marianne has the most remarkable dream. In it, she finds herself inside her own picture. The house is there, the garden is there, the boy is there. The boy's name is Mark, and he too exists both in Marianne's dream and in the real world. Marianne has a tutor, Miss Chesterfield, who teaches several ill children, so that they do not fall too far behind at school. Mark is another of her pupils; he has polio and his recovery still lies in the balance.

Marianne discovers that each time she draws with the pencil during the day she and Mark are transported to the dream house at night. Marianne and Mark do not have an easy dreamscape relationship. They bring their bad tempers and their unhappiness with them to the house and they argue often. And when they argue badly one day, Marianne draws boulders around the house, outside the garden fence, and thinks to herself,

"If he tried to get out of the house now, they would see. They watch him all the time, everything he does. They will never let him out."

And after that, the dream turns into a nightmare...

Ultimately, Marianne Dreams is not a horror story for children, although it is both eerie and powerful. Rather it is a story about coping with adversity and confronting demons. Marianne and Mark feel as trapped in their real lives as they do in their dream lives. Their illnesses have made them feel powerless, useless, frustrated. Their self-confidence is dented; it feels as though recovery is too far away and as though they will never be "normal" again. They are, in short, depressed and angry at the world. What they must do, though, is learn to face their negative feelings and to use them in a positive way and the dream world gives them an opportunity to do this. At first, they snipe at each other and try to rid themselves of anger by imposing it on the other. Gradually, though, they recognise the common foe - for the evil boulders, read their illnesses - and begin to work together to devise a strategy for escape. And as they do this in the dreamscape, so they begin to make progress recuperating in the real world.

It IS scary, though! Marianne Dreams frightened the bejeezus out of me when I first read it as a child. The boulders, with their one, blinking eye and their low, droning hum of whispers are menacing. An atmosphere of danger and threat pervades the book and Catherine Storr builds tension remorselessly.

Marianne Dreams probably falls a little short of what critics today insist on calling "crossover fiction" - that is, writing intended for older children, but that which could also successfully entertain an adult on a lazy afternoon. Its target audience is, I would say, confident readers of eight or nine up to at most ten or eleven. It is not a modern book, written in the late fifties, and as such the language is very middle-class with no current slang. When Mark suffers a relapse, for example, he is not taken into a modern intensive care or high dependency ward, but is put into an iron lung to help him breathe. Marianne and Mark are clearly of primary school age. For these reasons, I imagine that once they hit Year 7 and senior school, most children would have moved on.

I think Marianne Dreams is a great book. Catherine Storr is a wonderful writer - one of those rarities who can sneak unerringly into the minds of children and write for them without a trace of condescension. Her voice reminds me of people like Nina Bawden and Jacqueline Wilson - she is never patronising and her words are always authentic.

Whether you choose to let them read it alone, or to read it to them, or simply to enjoy it yourself , I recommend it highly.

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dietcokeofevil63 said:

I'm tripped out because my name is Marianne, and my boyfriend's name is Mark. I decided to google our names for fun, and now after reading this review, I really want to read the book! it sounds crazy! but in a good way! :)

Jill said:

How cool is that?