The luckiest of readers often find that a handful of childhood books will stay in their hearts their whole lives through. Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr is one of those for me. Having bewitched me since childhood, I was thrilled that its 60th anniversary presented the opportunity to write a glowing review. It is the story of invalided 10-year-old Marianne, who passes her lonely, bedridden hours by drawing a house. When Marianne sleeps, her dreams transport her into her picture, to the house she drew and the secrets it conceals. The stage is set for the spookiest of psychodramas.
Trembling in her dream-state, before the house, Marianne is chilled by its vacant blankness. ‘Why isn’t there someone in the house?’ she cried to the empty world around her. ‘ ‘Put someone there,’ the silent answer said.’ And once back in her waking hours, that’s exactly what Marianne does, drawing a sad-eyed boy at an upstairs window. Her next dream returns her to
the house and into the lonely life of a boy we come to know as Mark. Languid with illness and ennui, Mark is unable to leave the bedroom. The reader’s first assumption may be that he is a figment of Marianne’s imagination, but our author is too tricksy for this. Mark’s real alright, but how and why has he been drawn into the blurred space between Marianne’s
fantasy and reality?
Marianne Dreams is an eerily beautiful book. The late Catherine Storr trained as a psychotherapist, and through Marianne, explores dreaming as therapy for unresolved feelings, the fear of looming adolescence, and how the self can be lost through illness. The fear factor is ramped up when it transpires that Mark is being watched by many hidden eyes. A whispering menace surrounds the house, and Marianne must act.
Be warned that sensitive readers may find this book frightening. I did (and do!) An astute, old-fashioned minor classic. Give it the wider readership it deserves.
Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr is published by Faber & Faber, 320 pages.