Book Review: When Marnie Was There & Musings on the Studio Ghibli Adaptation-to-Come

40 thoughts on “Book Review: When Marnie Was There & Musings on the Studio Ghibli Adaptation-to-Come”

  1. Sounds like it has the potential to be a good story what with its difficult protagonist and subtle supernatural darkness. The fact that it’s different from the usual Ghibli fare means Yonebayashi can define himself.

    1. Yes, I think it has a lot of potential. It may indeed help Yonebayashi define himself and I think his experience with Arrietty may benefit him here, as in some ways there is very little detail that is provided (only some descriptions of the place in Norfolk) that, visually speaking, he will have imagine for us to create the mood that pervades a good part of the book. It’s not entirely different and I do think other Ghibli films are dark, but it’s certainly dark in a different way. I really hope he’ll keep that sense of ominousness.

  2. This has been my favourite book, ever since I was 9. When I turned 18 I took this book and another of Joan’s called “Charley” with me to Norfolk where I found the place which Little Overton is based on. The sand dunes look exactly as they do in the book. There’s a line in the book, describing the marsh as a “blanket of mauve” – that was there too, that was the sea lavender, exactly, a blanket of mauve. The creepy windmill has been repainted and is rented to holidaymakers in the summer by the National Trust foundation. I walked out on the path way way out where it’s so wide the sky will swallow you up, and it’s so windy it sound like the grass is singing, “Run away! Run away!” The only thing I couldn’t find was the Marsh House.
    When I was on the staithe and the tide had gone down, it was really quite hot and people were walking across the muddy creek bed to the newly exposed islands. I finished the book for the third time, leaning against a mooring pole, and then I just burst out fucking crying.
    I shit my pants when I found out When Marnie Was There was going to be the new Ghibli film.

    1. You’ve just made me realise that I should really, really make a trip to Norfolk and find this place where this story is set (do you have an exact place name by the way? I imagine it’s not actually called Little Overton, is it?).
      I can’t wait for this film to come out, the book was so intriguing and moving. I really want to see what it becomes in the hands of Studio Ghibli – so glad that it’s Ghibli and not a studio like Disney that is bringing it to the screen!

      1. It’s called Burnham Overy Staithe. The closest national rail station would be in King’s Lynn, from there you can take a regular bus up to Hunstanton and then further to Burnham Overy, passing Brancaster along the way. Last time I was in Norfolk, there was a stunning coastal path you could take between Burnham Overy and Brancaster, though I don’t know how things have changed since the storm surges of late.

  3. What a beautiful place, I never knew. Hope the new setting is just as lovely. and Japan has windmills.
    So it was where Admiral Lord Nelson learnt to sail aged 10. Perhaps the Japanese visitor was the Spirit of Admiral Togo

    1. Although I would have like the animation adaptation to have been set in Norfolk as well, I’m sure Ghibli will do something worthwhile with rehoming the story to Japan. Hopefully they’ll release more screenshots in advance of the film’s release in July!

      1. It’s the same director who adapted Arrietty which did the best possible job Japan-ising an English setting, so there’s high high hopes!

      2. Arrietty pretty much took place inside a house though (and wasn’t very Japanese either) – In When Marnie Was There the landscape is much more integral. That said, I liked what he did with Arrietty (particularly how he managed to convey certain feelings), so I’m not worried or anything!

  4. hI!
    l am 10 years old Japanease boy living in Japan.
    This summer I decide to read ‘When Marnie is there’ in English.
    I’d like write the book report about this book both in English and Japanease.
    I also plan to go to see the Gibli’s movie too.
    I now finish reading chapter 4.
    My mother help me reading this book, because some words like ‘trolly’ IHave never seen before. My mom uses English/English dictionary and we find that this book written in English but in British English!! ‘trolly’ ls ‘shopping cart’.
    I like this story and try to finish reading it all!
    I read your articles and I was very impressed. I especially was in touched where you wrote the story about Japanease man visited The Place. I hope he was Mr. Hayao Miyazaki!
    Thank you about your article!

    1. Dear Shun, sorry for the great delay in response, but I’m so very glad you decided to the read the book “When Marnie Was There”. I hope you are enjoying it, it is a wonderful story I think!
      Thank you for your compliments about my writing and good luck with writing your book report! がんばって!I hope you will inspire your friends and classmates to read the book as well!
      Yes, I loved that story about the Japanese man visiting the town in Norfolk, I would like to think it was Miyazaki-san or perhaps Suzuki Toshio, but I don’t really know!

      1. I finished reading the book! I was very happy to know ‘Anna’ was ‘Marianna’!! I startsmaking my book report. Also I start reading ‘Omoide no Marnie’ – Japanese version of ‘ When Marnie ..’. I also went to see the movie! The movie was arranged the original story in Japanese setting. I enjoyed comparing them when I was watching!! Thank you for the comments!

      2. Dear Shun, you are so lucky to have seen the movie! Sadly, it will take a long while to be shown overseas (I live in London, England) as it normally takes around a year for Studio Ghibli movies to be released here. We are still waiting for「かぐや姫の物語」and that was in Japanese cinemas last November!
        I’m glad to hear to you enjoyed both the book and the film.

  5. Great post, and you have captured both the fascination and the pathos of the story. I am always surprised more people are not familiar with this book. A copy must have made its way to my Boston library when I was growing up, but it was much harder to find my own copy 10 or so years ago.

    1. Thank you. 🙂 Hopefully more people will become acquainted with the book now. The fact that it hasn’t been available certainly hasn’t helped. There is a Kindle version for the UK now (which only came out in the last few months), but last I checked you could not purchase it in the US where second-hand copies seem to be people’s best option.

        1. Oh goody! That’s great news… Thrilled that Ghibli has led to renewed interest in the book to the point that we are now seeing it republished!

    1. You can purchase a copy via if you are based in Europe. The book is also being republished in the US, due out in January (see the link CML posted in the comments above).
      You might want to check your local library too (or inquire whether they could purchase the book once it is republished).
      It’s definitely very much worth reading!

  6. watched the movie, heart wrenching in the end. cried and tried to hide my tears from the person beside me. nice soundtrack too, especially the song “fine on the outside”. i will find a hard copy tomorrow.

    1. Lucky you! Still hasn’t screened in the UK (where I am). I hear it’s getting a US release in May and that there were a couple of screenings in the NL recently.
      I think it’s okay to cry in the cinema 🙂 I have definitely done it before (even if it does feel a little embarrassing).

  7. I first heard the story on Jackanory as a child and found the book on a second hand bookstall here in Northampton about 15 years ago! I’ve just seen the film so I’m about to retread the book.

  8. I’m nearly 42 years old, I read this when I was maybe 9or 10 & it left a deep impression on me, so much so that I have been searching for a copy for 30 years. Yesterday I found it at a 2nd hand book stall at my son’s school fete, he is now the same age as me when I first read it. I was SO excited at finally finding this book after searching in every book store & markets for so many years that I was given it for free by the owner. I couldn’t remember what exactly happened in the book but I knew I Had to read it again. I just finished it & I cried when I realised who Marnie was. I am So happy that I finally read it again & it definately did not disappoint! This is the book that gave me a lifelong passion for reading & I am now attempting to write my own paranormal thriller. Thankyou Joan G Robinson for this wonderful gift of a book. I will never forget it & I will never let my new(old) copy of it go again!

    1. Glad you got hold of the book again – they did republish it now that Studio Ghibli made a film. I hope you get a chance to watch the film as well, some parts are a little different but it’s also delightful.

  9. I saw the movie and had to read the book. Yes, I cried at “Fine on the Outside”, I admit it.
    I was surprised to meet the Lindsays. The resolution of the movie was perfect, even though they had almost completely been written out of the film. In the book the Lindsays were critical to Anna’s healing. I wouldn’t have believed the story could be successfully restructured without them.
    I also read “Charley” and “Meg and Maxie” (The Sea Witch). Joan G. Robinson was an excellent story teller.

    1. I have to reread and rewatch When Marnie Was There – it’s been so long that I read the book/watched the movie! I didn’t know about Robinson’s other works, will keep an eye out for them!

  10. Thank you for your wonderful book review. ‘When Marnie Was There’ was a childhood favourite of mine and even now, at 58, a re-read still brings tears to my eyes. It’s dark, haunting and beautiful all at the same time. I recently watched the Studio Ghibli adaptation (subtitled, not dubbed) and was impressed with the film. Yes, there were some minor changes, understandably, but overall the film kept the spirit and emotions of the original story intact…and yes, it brought tears to my eyes. What I find so fascinating is how one can return to a story read as a child then, with the accumulated experiences of life’s ups and down, disappointments and triumphs under one’s belt, read it afresh and appreciate what was missed as a child. The book will always be a classic, in my opinion and is as relevant today as it’s always been. Love truly does conquer all.

    1. I love how people still comment on this review and film and book, it does say something about the power and timelessness of this story. Thank you for commenting. 🙂

      1. alua. Thank you for responding to my comment. You may be interested to know that I am presently writing an article about childhood trauma in fiction and have chosen ‘When Marnie Was There’ (book and anime) as the focus for this work. It will be published in an American online arts magazine later this year. I am particularly interested in how both Anna and Marnie use a persona to hide their trauma. Anna’s is the ‘ordinary’ face, whereas Marnie’s is her pretence at being the ‘luckiest girl in the world’. Of course there is a great deal more to it than that, so a deeper analysis of both characters is underway. I am also following the journey of the story – from book to film – and, like you, have uncovered some fascinating background information about the story’s transition to screen, including comments from Deborah Sheppard that the character of Anna was, essentially, her mother. That comment alone leads me to think there’s a great deal more to the story than that which we see on the page and the screen. Furthermore, I noticed in your ‘Bonus Bits’ section that you mentioned the edition you have has some ‘interesting information’. Would it be possible to correspond privately and share this information with me? The only copy I have is a relatively modern 1972 edition, with the cover image taken from the Jackanory photoshoot, and I haven’t been able to locate an edition with any ‘extras’ anywhere – and this is from someone who regularly haunts second-hand book shops, car boot sales, charity shops, ex-library stock and the like. I am interested in collecting whatever information is available, as part of my ongoing research. I’d also like to quote from your article – in particular the end note about the Japanese man who visited ‘Little Overton’ – as that’s a wonderful story in itself. I will, of course, give you all due credit in my article. Thank you in advance.

        1. Hi Ashley, I don’t check this blog regularly, so only I saw your comment now. I can find no email with your post to reach out to you, but if you like, you can contact me via here:
          I can’t remember the information the postscript contains and I can’t get to the book until next week – so I can’t say for sure whether there’ll be something of use for you or not! But we can take a look!

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