Somerset, 1868: Crippled by polio as a small child, Marnie lives with her ma and not her pa, Smoaker, in a seaside village famed for its sea cures. The sea is her life and she looks forward to being as well respected a dipper as her ma. However, shunned by the local children due to her limp, her life is a lonely one, until she meets Noah, who is staying at the mansion with his family. They are worlds apart but as he takes notice of her, Marnie starts to dream of a different life.
I live in a town whose existence owes thanks to Victorian bathers and I love the old photos they have on the pier of the ridiculous contraptions ladies used to get carried down to the water in. I absolutely loved this aspect of The Madness, with the bathing machines, dippers and livelihoods built up around the notion that the sea cures all ills.
The dippers lined up ready in the sea, their skirts floating round their waists, and the horses trundled up and down the shingle with sweat foaming on their flanks.
It’s a suitably gothic tale of obsession. Noah’s diary entries make it clear he’s only interested in Marnie as a “distraction” and he has a love interest back in London. We can but hope, but his tone implies Marnie’s in for some trouble. She on the other hand is oblivious. She is reluctant at first, having been shunned by locals because of her disability, she distrusts this handsome, rich boy.
Her town and life is strangely claustrophobic, considering it is a beach-side town, with plenty of space. But she doesn’t have much choice in life; her class and disability means she is lucky to even have the life she does. She has a future, but she’s willing to risk all that for a boy she hardly knows. She is literally on the outside, looking in on his life, separated by more than she will ever know.
I liked the contrast between the propriety of the bathers and Marnie’s wild abandon. She is more worried about covering her disfigured leg than showing too much skin for decency’s sake. She seems wild and part of the environment. She sometimes dreams that she is a mermaid, and her father is a fisherman who will return to her and whisk her away from this life.
The sea is rolling over me and it’s cold and beautiful and it’s washing away all me hurt.
For the most part, the story is told in third person, with extracts from Noah’s diary. However towards the end, as tensions rise and Marnie’s obsession increases, it switches to first person narrative in Marnie’s voice. I’m so glad it wasn’t all told by her as she has this annoying trait of replacing my with me. I know this is to highlight her class and the period but I find it hard to read in large doses. Like I want to get my red pen out and correct it!
I really recommend The Madness for anyone looking to add a bit of darkness to their YA reading.
Book Source: Purchased
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