Marianna by Susanna Kearsley (Fiction. 384 pages. 2012)
Marianna starts with a girl and a beautiful, creaky old house in the English countryside and it ends with a love story spanning more than 500 years. This is a very particular type of novel, in which two stories are told in an interleaved fashion — one set in the present and one in the past. In this case, the stories belong to modern day illustrator Julia Beckett and the titular 17th century Marianna Farr.
And, of course, they’re linked (in ways I don’t want to reveal lest I spoil the delights of the novel). These delights (and, yes, surprises) are many. In fact, this is one of the first books I’ve read in awhile where I really didn’t see the end coming. I even felt compelled to go back and reread the novel to ferret out all the clues I’d missed the first time around.
While Marianna holds a twist, much of the novel reads like a meandering stroll through the English countryside on a particularly fine day. It’s pleasant and charming, but it lacks a little urgency. No one’s life is stake. The world doesn’t need saving. Armies of darkness are not about to destroy all happiness and joy and extinguish light from the universe. Rather, the story explores the connections between our past and present, the real nature of love and friendship, and the role of destiny in our lives.
So, if you’re looking for riveting action, this is not the book for you. But, if you’re looking for a lovely holiday read — one you won’t be upset to be pulled away from when the spiked eggnog comes out but will be happy to pick back up once you’re snug in bed — Marianna is just the thing for you.