The lure of Susanna Kearsley's story telling in both The Winter Sea and The Rose Garden was just too much, so I couldn't resist reading Mariana. If you enjoy this author, resistance is futile. You won't be disappointed, as Mariana is more than up to the task of settling in right among those two wonderful novels.
Julia Beckett is drawn to one particular farmhouse in Exbury. Known as Greywethers, and located adjacent to Crofton Hall, the seat of the de Mornay family, the 16th century house calls to her from childhood, and as an adult of 29, with a job as an illustrator for children's books, she has the wherewithal to purchase it. As she settles in, she becomes aware of coincidences and what can coyly be described as side effects, of living there. She sees a gray stallion with a mysterious rider, who seems to be watching her from a copse of trees. Then, she has what seem to be a series of hallucinations. She finds herself in the Greywethers of the 1660's, as Mariana Farr, a girl who has come to live with her devout uncle during the plague years in London. As she comes back to herself after each "episode," Julia realizes that these are not hallucinations, or the product of too little sleep, but something quite different, and she feels compelled to continue her journeys into the past in order to experience the love that Richard de Mornay had for Mariana, and by doing so, answer questions that pertain to her own life.
Ms. Kearsley's secondary characters which include Julia's vicar brother Tom, Geoff de Mornay (the owner of Crofton Hall), her friend Vivian, Vivian's Aunt Freda and Geoff's friend Iain Sumner, pull the story together and add the puzzle pieces that completes the picture of both Julia and Mariana's lives. While Mariana's tale is a compelling, tragic, but somewhat predictable love story, Julia's happy ending comes in the form of a lovely surprise, one we may have suspected at first, but brushed aside for a different outcome. I was happy to see that my first impression was correct in this case.
Mariana, like all of Ms. Kearsley's novels, pushes the envelope of reality without actually breaking through the seal. The story telling is so good that we put aside our doubts and questions and truly believe that the basis of these stories are entirely plausible. As with the other two wonderful novels I reviewed here, I didn't want to turn the last page. It's hard to find an author so adept at suspending reality and taking her readers along for the ride. I'm grateful to have found this one.