What’s it all about?:
Sixteen-year-old Marnie lives in the idyllic coastal village of Clevedon. Despite being crippled by a childhood exposure to polio, she seems set to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and become a ‘dipper’, escorting fragile female bathers into the sea. Her life is simple and safe. But then she meets Noah. Charming, handsome, son-of-the-local-Lord, Noah. She quickly develops a passion for him – a passion which consumes her.
As Marnie’s infatuation turns to fixation she starts to lose her grip on reality, and a harrowing and dangerous obsession develops that seems certain to end in tragedy. Set in the early Victorian era when propriety, modesty and repression were the rule, this is a taut psychological drama in which the breakdown of a young woman’s emotional state will have a devastating impact on all those around her.
What did I think?:
Alison Rattle’s debut novel was The Quietness which I absolutely loved so I was excited to read this, her second novel which I chose as my seventh book from June 2014 – Chrissi Cupboard Month. As well as the stunning cover art which took my breath away, the story inside is both beautiful and poignant. Set in early Victorian times, it follows the life of our main character, a sixteen year old girl called Marnie who was crippled from an early age by infection with the polio virus. Marnie is determined for her disability not to ruin her life, and works long and hard hours both in and outside of her house to make herself as strong as possible. Her mother is renowned in their small village by the sea as being a “dipper,” in other words, helping other women (mostly the rich and frail) to bathe in the sea in order to absorb the healing properties that it was believed to offer. Marnie herself was “dipped” in the water by her mother on a regular basis in the hope that it would cure her affliction and as a result she develops an intense bond with the sea which appears at times to be her only comfort.
One day the wealthy Lady de Clevedon arrives in the town specifically to attempt sea bathing as she is constantly unwell and very weak. In tow is her son Noah, whom when he meets Marnie is fascinated by her free and daring personality and the two soon become good friends. Noah’s father meanwhile, lays out his plans for the building of a pier in Clevedon which he assures the town will bring entertainment and prosperity. It’s not such good news for Marnie’s mother though, as the dippers are unable to work while the pier is being built. She channels her energies instead into providing a laundrette service, with poor Marnie doing most of the laundering, Marnie is not discouraged however, as she begins to meet Noah late at night by the sea, encouraging him to bathe and learn to swim, step by step. Unfortunately for Marnie, she is beginning to develop stronger feelings for Noah that go beyond the realms of friendship, and is often puzzled by the mixed messages Noah gives her in return. A few times, Noah would sneak her up to the Manor, where they would have hot drinks and play like children, but Noah is afraid of them making too much noise, and is very reluctant to introduce her to his family.
The story really starts to pick up pace when Noah has to return to London with his mother. Even though he shared an intimate moment with Marnie just before he left, he is excited to return to society and see one girl in particular – of his own class of course. I found myself squirming with unhappiness for Marnie as her feelings for Noah increase in intensity becoming a sort of obsession. While he is gone she concocts elaborate fantasies in her head where they are together living at the Manor, never having to launder anything again. Of course, you might be able to see where it’s going, but I really don’t want to spoil anything as I feel the beauty of the story and the writing comes across when you read it for yourself. At times, I almost felt like an eavesdropper on a private moment, as the emotions Marnie goes through are played out across the pages with no holds barred. I also found Marnie’s relationship with her mother very interesting as it didn’t seem to be anywhere near a conventional mother/daughter bond – in fact, it was more employer/servant in my opinion! By the end of the novel, Marnie takes some quite drastic actions which make the novel utterly un-putdownable but because the reader has gone through so much with Marnie, we can almost understand her choices while not condoning them. This story is truly beautiful and haunting, with a bit of darkness added that makes for an utterly compelling read. Beware – don’t read this book if you have any other tasks to complete, because you won’t get them done!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):