From the Mists of Time: When Marnie was There by Joan Robinson

I’ve been looking out for a book called When Marnie was There for many many years. I read it as a child and remember being simultaneously frightened and delighted by its strangeness. It featured a lonely little girl and a ghost and the sea and that was about all that remained to me 30 years down the track. Jo Walton mentioned it once in her column (she liked it too), so I knew that it actually existed and that I had the name right. But I never could find a copy anywhere. Not in any of the libraries I’ve frequented over the years, not in any bookshops, not online.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I spotted an announcement somewhere (who knows where) online that Studio Ghibli has made a movie of the book. News that filled me with glee. Not only because Studio Ghibli make gorgeous hand-drawn animated movies and just might be able to do the story justice, but because a movie means publicity and publicity means a long-overdue re-issue of the book. I searched all my online sources and kobobooks had the ebook available. I downloaded it at once and managed to read it in a day, even though the day was filled with flying to Dunedin and visiting with family and friends.

To my relief and pleasure, it’s a wonderful book. It begins with about as accurate a depiction of depression as you’re ever likely to encounter in a child’s book (I imagine that the girl’s loneliness and sense of being apart, of not quite fitting, resonated with my pre-teen self), moves to elegiac descriptions of sea and coast, encompasses a ghost which may or may not have good intentions, and opens out into an ending that reassured and consoled, as well as surprising me.

No wonder it stayed with me all those years as something rich and strange and unusual. Something worth tracking down.

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