Following on from our recent blog on books that trigger emotional responses, Alison Dawkins offers some reflections on one such book that has left a lingering trace.

A few weeks ago, my chum Martin  wrote about the importance of reading scary and sad books , as adults and as children, and as usual, got me thinking. Specifically, thinking again about Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr .

He’s quite right, when he mentioned the book back in the summer, I visibly shuddered with a ‘oh, that book’s so scary’, (although I have to say there was already a set of six copies in the guided reading choices for Y6 in my old school, ready and waiting to scare them each year) and agreed to re-read. Oddly, I found that I’d misremembered the ending, and then in fact, realised I’d misremembered it before. A deliberate trick of my subconscious because I still find it quite unsettling for all its apparently happy tying up of ends? I wonder.

So what is it about this book?

A girl finds a pencil with which she draws things that ‘come true’ in a dream to which she keeps returning. It’s set during the sixties in a family situation that will be unrecognisable to the vast majority of children reading it today – although that does give rise to interesting discussions about changes over time, and with behaviours by the central characters that are timeless and absolutely still relevant to our children. Half of the book takes place in that ‘real life’ but it’s the dream sequences that grip the reader and, as I discovered last weekend, are the parts that linger in the corners of our minds across the years.

Sitting with assorted family and friends I posed the question, ‘now then, Marianne Dreams, what do you think?’

The first and immediate answer from several of the party was, ‘Not the light, not the light’, which if you’ve read the book will make perfect sense and was obviously replied to with, ‘Get them, get them’; if you haven’t, then I’m afraid you’re a bit in the dark at this point and it would take more words than I have to explain. We all agreed it was a scary book and further probing as to why, which then involved commandeering a napkin to scribble on, brought these (slightly) more lucid comments.

‘The stones are all around and they can’t get away.’

It’s so horrible when she gets angry and scribbles him out and then it’s real in the dream with the bars.’

‘They’re like the stone angels in Dr Who; suddenly they’re there in your face.’

‘Relentless’, ‘creepy, so creepy’, ‘waiting to be got’.

‘It’s like real dreams when you know something is coming and coming but not actually moving.’

This is a book that plays on primal fears: of being trapped, of being pursued, of being helpless. It’s also exciting and hopeful, and we see persistence pay off, friendships develop, and solutions to problems found. For all its scariness, it is a safe place to look at these fears, as it is after all, only a book. (On the other hand, I am still pondering that ending.)

The youngest person round the table was 17, the oldest 56, and memories of Marianne Dreams had stayed with all of us. Universally we agreed that it was one of the scariest things we’d read as children, and one of the books we were most glad to have read.

But don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself.