When my sister was 10 she bought a rather battered copy of a book called Marianne Dreams at our school summer fair. A few years later, when she decided it was too young for her, she handed it on to me. I love puzzles – not particularly the kind that have to be solved, like crosswords, but ones that intrigue in the same way as a complex painting or a spider’s web. Marianne Dreams, published in 1958, is that kind of novel. Its plot is driven by mysterious connections – invisible threads that join together people and things in worlds both real and imaginary – and while the story may be resolved at the end of the book, the puzzle remains.
Although its author Catherine Storr (1913–2001) did write fiction for adults, it is for Marianne Dreams that she is best known, and for Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf, written for younger children. Her most successful stories were based on those she told her own children when they were growing up, or stories devised with her children or their friends as characters. Marianne Dreams tells the story of a girl who is able to manipulate her dreams through the pictures she draws. The events in her dreams, dramatic and fraught with difficulties, become as real and as important to her as the world she inhabits when awake.
I was 9 when I first read the novel. By that age I was a voracious reader and took a book to bed with me each night. I would read a chapter – or two if I could get away with it – before my mother insisted on lights out. This worked well until I read Marianne Dreams. Though it is aimed at children of around 8, I can’t imagine children of 11 or 12 not being at least a little disconcerted by it. I was scared but completely hooked, and went to sleep each night with disturbing images in my head, inevitably followed by nightmares.
The Marianne of the title is a girl convalescing after a serious illness, which keeps her bored and bedridd
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