Like Dusty Answer, Rebecca, I Capture the Castle or The Pursuit of Love, this is one of those novels about a young girl growing up and encountering life and love which all have the common characteristic of being funny, readable and yet perceptive. They are 'hot-water bottle' novels - books to curl up with on the sofa with a rug and a cup of tea and a bar of chocolate on a wet Saturday afternoon.
But Mariana is more than this. As the Observer's Harriet Lane wrote in her Preface, critics may have tended 'to dismiss its subject matter: crushes, horses, raffish uncles, frocks, inconsequential jobs, love affairs...but it is Mariana's artlessness, its enthusiasm, its attention to tiny, telling domestic detail that makes it so appealing to modern readers. As a snap-album - as a portrait of a certain sort of girl at a certain time in a certain place - it now seems, sixty years after first publication, entirely exotic.
'Yet it also deals with timeless, familiar concerns that are once again admissable after a long period in the wilderness. After all, this is the sometimes comic story of a young woman trying, often quite desperately, to occupy her days while waiting for the arrival of the right young man: a plot that would probably ring some bells with a certain Bridget Jones...'
Monica Dickens's admirers included J.B.Priestley, Rebecca West (it is 'life itself which is caught up in the pages of her books'), John Betjeman (who called her 'one of the most affectionate and humorous observers of the English scene') and, nowadays, AS Byatt. The Sunday Telegraph reviewer of the Persephone edition described it as 'funny and poignant'. 'The contemporary detail is superb,' wrote the Spectator, 'the characters are observed with vitality and humour...the book is written with verve and exuberance.'