MARIANA by Monica Dickens

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMary is a small girl who lives with her mother and uncle in London. Her best time of the year is the holidays in her father’s family’s house where she has found love and everything is like a dream for her.

During the whole book, we discover the changes in Mary’s life, deceptions, mistakes, discoveries. Hers is the normal life passing through childhood to youth until she finds love.

This is not a love story, it is just the story of the years of someone not remarkable, but learning day after day how to live and how to manage everyday challenges.

We encounter the naivety of a girl, the caprices of a young woman and her journey through understanding and maturity, not without some pains, but always with a new day to see everything better and better, and finding that nothing is ultimately so important.

In the preface of the book there is a sentence that explains pretty well what this book is about:

“‘Mariana’ will be fun for those who like to look through other people’s snap-albums.”

I always enjoy the positive messages in books, and this is one of the reasons: I like to copy and share in my reviews these marvellous sentences:

“There’s no such word as cannot.”

“… from the start that your best would never be good enough for him.”

To understand how people use their power against those who are under them:

“One might ask, thought Mary, but one would not necessarily get a coherent explanation.”

This is a very familiar sensation.

“How nice people were, thought Mary, going upstairs to change her dress, and how churlish she had been to them in her preoccupation with her own exaggerated troubles.”

First time discovering how problems become smaller as you go far away from them.

“… which performed Greek tragedies and Prometheus Unbound to people who would have preferred a concert party but turned up nevertheless to show that they were as cultured as the next man.”

Why us, mankind, want to appear to be different from what we really are?

The good advice of the eldest in the family:

“The smallest doubt in your mind, she had said, must be enough to show you it’s not the right man. That doubt won’t disappear after you’re married.”

A good advice not only to choose your partner but in all the questions in our lives.

Monica Dickens, born in 1915, was brought up in London; herMonica father was a barrister and a grandson of Charles Dickens. Her mother’s German origins and her Catholicism gave her the detached eye of an outsider; at St Paul’s Girls’ School she was under-occupied and rebellious. After drama school she was a debutante before working as a cook. One Pair of Hands (1939), her first book, described life in the kitchens of Kensington. It was the first of a group of semi autobiographies of which Mariana (1940), technically a novel, was one. ‘My aim is to entertain rather than instruct,’ she wrote. ‘I want readers to recognise life in my books.’ In 1951 Monica Dickens married a US naval officer, Roy Stratton, moved to America and adopted two daughters. The Winds of Heaven was published in 1955. An extremely popular writer, Monica Dickens involved herself in, and wrote about, good causes such as the Samaritans. After her husband died she lived in a cottage in rural Berkshire, dying there in 1992.

(Persephone Books)

NAOKO by Keigo Higashino

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeigo Higashino presents with this novel a completely different kind of story from which we are used to him.

It is not a mystery novel, it is something between a paranormal story and a critique of gender relations in Japan.

Heisuke lives the life of the average man in Japan, working hard, and providing for his wife, Naoko and his daughter, Monami.

During a journey to visit the family, both, Naoko and Monami are seriously injured in a bus accident. Naoko loses her life saving that of Monami.

When thereafter Monami finally awakes from a coma, assures Heisuke that she is Naoko’s mind in Monami’s body, and her behaviour, knowledge and way to express herself suggests that she is telling the truth.

Heisuke and Naoko-Monami, start living a strange life in which they have to behave as father and daughter when what they really are is husband and wife.

They feel hurt when their aims change with the big difference of ages and prospects.

Even if the story seems just a fantasy, it establishes a good point.

Can you imagine that you have a second opportunity to start your life all over again?

You were thirty-six years old and suddenly you are only eleven, and all these things that you missed or you had liked to do or to experience in the past, are again at your disposal, with the experience of a grown-up woman, but the youthfulness of a young woman with her whole life to start. You will have again at your disposal a blank book to release.

I have heard a lot of times that “Parents try to live part of their life through their children”, and in this novel this idea becomes possible.

A second opportunity to reach your dreams, to be better, to not make the mistakes of your past. It is an interesting idea to meditate on.

This is not a great story, it is not so different from many others but makes you think about the possibility of a fresh start.

How would you change your past? Will you change everything? Will you keep part of your mistakes not to lose the happy moments of your life?

The end of this story is like the beginning, surprising. It is as a new life would be.

Keigo Higashino is a Japanese author chiefly known for hisdownload mystery novels. He served as the 13th President of Mystery Writers of Japan from 2009 to 2013.

Born in Osaka, he started writing novels while still working as an engineer at Nippon Denso Co. (presently DENSO). He won the Edogawa Rampo Award, which is awarded annually to the unpublished finest mystery work, in 1985 for the novelHōkago (After School) at age 27. Subsequently, he quit his job and started a career as a writer in Tokyo.

In 1999, he won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for the novel Naoko, which was translated into English by Kerim Yasar and published by Vertical Inc. in 2004. In 2006, he won the 134th Naoki Prize for The Devotion of Suspect X (Yōgisha X no Kenshin). His novels had been nominated five times before winning the award. The novel also won the 6th Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize and was ranked as the number-one novel by Kono Mystery ga Sugoi! 2006 and 2006 Honkaku Mystery Best 10, annual mystery fiction guide books published in Japan.

The English translation of The Devotion of Suspect X was nominated for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Novel and the 2012Barry Award for Best First Novel.

He writes not only mystery novels but also essays and story books for children. The style of writing differs from his novels, but basically he does not use as many characters as in his novels.