Marnie is a 1961 novel by Winston Graham (no, I’ve never heard of him, either) which was adapted into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock (who does sound familiar) in 1964. The movie met mixed success, despite starring Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren. The book apparently has been mostly forgotten.
The book is way better than the movie. I know, shocking.
Plot: Margaret “Marnie” Elmer, an attractive, intelligent, perceptive young woman, steals money from the companies she has worked for to support her crippled, widowed mother. She’s done three so far and is confident in her abilities to lie as readily to her employers as to her mother, but taking a job as cashier to [COMPANY] turns out to be the step too far.
Marnie is twisted–although not lacking in empathy, she is remote and distant enough that it might as well be the case. On this job, however, she starts to connect with people, interacts with people (especially: male people), and this starts to change: she has conversations, makes friends, and the firm’s part-owners, Mark Rutland and Terry Holbrook, take an interest in her. Terry is an affable slimeball, but Mark is a gentleman–and also sincerely in love with Marnie. Enough to cover for her when she makes her move, search when she disappears, haul her back by the ear, and….
….blackmail her into marrying him.
Mark’s also an idiot, because he thinks that this will all work out fine, somehow.
Marnie, however, has what TVTROPES helpfully categorizes as Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality. She goes absolutely berserk at the thought of consummating the marriage, a state of affairs which continues through the honeymoon until Mark gets fed up and–Trigger Warning–rapes her. (He apologizes after.)
He also insists that she see a psychiatrist.
Marnie’s sparring with the psychiatrist, with Mark, with Terry (who is smart enough to suspect something is up with his partner’s new wife when it’s that bloody obvious), her alternating escape plans and tentative efforts to acclimatize herself to her situation–and efforts to find a new source of cash to bring home to Mother–take most of the novel’s second half. Despite heroic efforts of resistance on Marnie’s part, the good doctor makes some progress at helping her realize that she really is missing something: there are in her past events that don’t add up, memories that can’t be real, wrong dates, unlikely coincidences. It takes genuine tragedy to make the breakthrough, but, finally, at the extreme end, Marnie finds the key to it all….
The end reveal is different in the novel than the film (again, the film was dumbed down a lot), enough so that I didn’t expect and won’t spoil it here. In the movie, the issues are resolved by a chat with Mother and a good cry, and Marnie is now at peace with Mark and mankind. (Or, er, humankind.) Here…the reveal doesn’t so much show all to the audience as it does give Marnie the tools she needs to understand what others have told her about herself: that she isn’t evil or crazy–just, in a highly specific and also harmful way, sick.
Marnie finds this knowledge, Mark’s support, and her own newfound awareness, empowering enough to walk through a door and face down her enemies at the cliffhanger climax of the novel. We don’t know if Marnie will go to jail after all, but now she has the stability to handle a trial, and is able to accept Mark’s love (no, his feelings) at last.
The book, which is first person, is primarily a character study of Marnie…and she’s a fascinating character. She lies easily and smoothly. She can remember the day and hour she decided to steal for the first time. She loves her mother, but also somewhat despises her. She loves her horse. She’s extremely intelligent, good with numbers, a quick learner at whatever she turns her hand to. She was raised in poverty by a poorly educated and unintelligent woman with a twisted view of the world. And Marnie was twisted by that worldview, shaped by it, and yet grew up all right mostly, except for the few little parts in her that bent a little too far out of shape and broke.
Mark is an interesting character well, although as the novel wears on, Marnie’s loathing for him does not diminish, and his patience never fails, he does strain credulity. The version of him played by Sean Connery is actually quite good, either because Connery’s charisma pulls it off, or because he does lose his temper occasionally.
Terry Holbrook, a book-only character, is someone who might have been excellent when played by George Saunders. My exact notes on Terry state: “affably despicable when he’s bad, affably smug when he’s being nice.” Marnie headbutting him in the nose was a definite high point for the book and his character. Focusing the book more on corporate intrigue, backstabbing, and blackmail, would have been interesting. A different book entirely, but interesting. In the movie, Terry’s character is converted into Mark’s jealous step-sister, Lil Mainwaring, either because Diane Baker was more photogenic or Saunders was too expensive.
What else do I have to say about this….Oh yes. So I’m working on a thesis that the difference between an OK work and a great one is: horses. Fort Dobbs? Last Train from Gun Hill? No focus on horses, and they’re…OK at best. Quantez? With a comparable cast, budget, and script, + horses? It’s much better than OK. Maybe not “great”, but very good. The Subtle Knife books? OK but then sharply declining in quality: no horses. Narnia? Not only horses, but Talking Horses; a classic. The Dragaera novels? No horses. The hero even has to do his wandering the earth on foot. They absolutely don’t hold up to re-reads. Lord of the Rings? You have Bill the Pony, the entire country of Rohan, and Shadowfax. LOTR is a seminal work on which the entire modern fantasy genre is based. The Blue Sword? It’s literally swords-and-horses fantasy and it won the Newberry. (…a blue ribbon…?) So. Yeah, um, back to the topic.
Marnie’s love for her horse, Forio, is one of the most human things about her, and the thing that motivates her the most. A reviewer elsewhere derided Marnie’s going to an injured Forio first, instead of her husband, as evidence of a terrible person, and as unrealistic. That reviewer has obviously never owned a horse before, or heard one screaming.
Anything else…Well, Marnie is an excellent narrator. Objectively, she’s a terrible person–a liar, impersonal, resentful, a thief–but from the inside she’s understandable and even sympathetic. Her steps toward finding her own identity, settling into the role and community of “Mrs. Rutland” are actually rather heartwarming to read.
And I’m out of things to say about this book, except that I was up until about 1:53 a.m. reading it.
Rated: Five stolen payrolls out of five.