Back to the Classics Challenge 2021: Classic by a New-to-Me Author

The one thing I love about joining reading challenges is that I get to discover new authors. More than once, it has lead to new favorite books (plural because there is no such thing as THE favorite book). This year Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen on her Books and Chocolate blog has a special category dedicated to New-to-the-Reader (me) authors. I picked out Winston Graham’s novel Marnie that had been waiting in my TBR pile for more than a year or two. I remember that Marnie was an impulse buy back in the day when taking your time to browse around in a bookstore was still a thing. I love reading a good thriller once in a while, and I figured that Alfred Hitchcock wouldn’t have based his movie on any old boring book. It’s my first read by Winston Graham despite his long list of novels. The name Poldark, however, rings a bell, so I might not be all that hopeless.

Synopsis from Goodreads

Marnie seems a charming woman, but no one knows her real name or anything about her at all. Now Marnie has walked into a trap. The game is over – or would be – if the man who trapped her hadn’t caught himself as well.

My thoughts

Molly, Mary, Marnie… different names but the same woman. Margaret or Marnie is her real identity known only to her family. To the rest of the world, she is a different woman every few months. Marnie has the looks and the brains despite her origins. It allows her to outsmart the wealthy ensuring comfortable living for herself and her old mother. She loves expensive things, so why should she slave away as a secretary for pennies when she can have it all? She’s gotten away with theft more than once. Now, she starts a new job as Mary at John Rutland & Co. She tries to keep a low profile and get on with the job, but she has caught the eye of not one but two men in charge – Terry and Mark. They could not be more different and they simply hate each other. However, that’s not a sufficient reason for Marnie to lay off her plans. She thought she had a foolproof plan to get away with more than one thousand pounds. Little did Marnie know that she might not be the smartest or the luckiest one at the office. When it seemed that she had gotten away with the theft, Mark shows up where he shouldn’t be. Marnie is caught, and so begins the real story of how she is forced to face up all her lies and buried ghosts from the past.

Winston Graham has written a surprisingly convincing psychological thriller from a female perspective. Together with Marnie, we get to peel back all the layers of deceit and trauma going back to her childhood. Mark tries to stand by her throughout this process despite her aversion to sex, but as we all know… some things can only be healed with truth and self-acceptance. Both do not come easy to Marnie.

It’s written as a gripping story of love, loss, deceit, and self-hatred. It’s not only Marnie’s secrets that are caught up in the mix. It’s also her mother’s. And the book keeps on surprising until the very end. I have a slight issue with the author’s fixation on Marnie’s dislike of sex as a somewhat defining characteristic. It was an important aspect of her persona, but it felt at times like taking too much of a center stage. Admittedly, the book was written in different times and should not be judged from our modern-day perspective. However, it felt like diminishing her psychological problems only to this one manifestation, although the author masterfully works through many other layers.

To sum up, it was an exciting read, a pretty great psychological thriller with quite unpredictable twists and turns. And I won’t hesitate to pick up something else from Winston Graham’s long list of novels.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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