"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The Great Readers of M September book discussion was the great children's classic Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Karren chose this book and then proceeded to tell us that she is basically Lucy Montgomery expert, which was really quiet interesting and fasinating to hear her talk about the other books, visiting Prince Edward Island, etc. Of all the books I read as a little girl, this is probably one of my all time favorite childhood books that I still love even today.

The world of children's literature is packed full of orphans: Harry Potter, Mary Lennox, Oliver Twist, Pollyanna... Standing tall amongst this group is Anne Shirley, a freckled, imaginative, talkative redhead that was supposed to be a boy. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, two old unmarried siblings, have decided to adopt a young boy to help out on their farmland. But when intensely shy Matthew reaches the train station he is somewhat horrified to find that their expected boy is in fact a girl. Seeing nothing that can be done at that moment, Matthew takes her home to Green Gables in Avonlea, finding the eleven-year-old fascinating company on the way. Despite Marilla's shock at the mistake, the Cuthberts decide that for better or worse, Anne should remain with them at Green Gables. And so Anne's upbringing by the two most unlikely parents begins.

Matthew is happy to remain in the background, doting on Anne and interfering with Marilla's techniques only when he feels particularly strongly about something, and so it falls to Marilla to do most of the work. Marilla is a woman who has never had much experience in displaying any type of love, but soon finds her long-dormant sense of humour being awoken by the vivacious, dreamy, loving child. Anne herself is a character that it's difficult not to fall in love with - passionate, mischievous, dreamy, a chatterbox, determined and with a streak of innate goodness that puts her just a little lower than the angels.

She is one of the most memorable and well-loved characters of all time, and if you have not yet discovered this amazing personality and "kindred spirit", then it's about time you got hold of the first installment of her life "Anne of Green Gables". Anne Shirley went on to star in many other books, but most will agree that this first one is far and away the best. Beginning with the twisting and intricate curves of a running stream, and ending with the calm and stable (yet still interesting) road, it chronicles the first five years of Anne's life at Green Gables as she steadily grows from a wild and unruly girl to a poised and intelligent young woman.

The characters are instantly as lovable and memorable as Anne herself. First of course are Matthew and Marilla, two rather lonely people who find their lives brightened immeasurably once Anne becomes a part of their family. There is Diana, Anne's somewhat unimaginative, but devoted best friend, and Gilbert Blythe, the boy who makes the mistake of making fun of Anne's hair and so bears the full brunt of her wrath and ongoing grudge. Mrs Rachel Lynde, the kind-hearted busybody who lives next door and Anne's beloved teacher and the minister's wife: Miss Stacey and Mrs Allen. As well as this is a host of other minor characters, all interesting and real in their own way, from schoolyard friends to family relatives to community figures: each one is a tiny gem of characterisation.

But Anne herself is the star of the show from start to finish - so talkative is she that often Montgomery forsakes describing first-hand the things she gets up to and instead lets Anne herself describe them in hindsight (usually to Marilla). It's a tricky technique to use, but Anne is so exuberant and descriptive in her conversations that it works remarkably well. She has her moments however - like the time she tried to dye her hair black and it ended up green. Or the time she used liniment in a cake instead of vanilla. Or the time she accidentally got her best friend drunk. But half the fun of the book is finding out just what she'll get up to next, so I won't spoil it all for you.

Part of the charm (by this stage) is that, like Jane Austen, L. M. Montgomery was a contemporary writer in the 1920's - not a modern day author writing about a time period that they didn't belong to. Therefore, the world of 1920's Prince Edward Island is brought to vivid life, knowing that this woman actually lived there at this time. There are phrases and words that mean nothing to modern day readers, but add to the book's authenticity and charm, as well as its innocence and the feel that it belongs to a younger, more golden time.

Yet despite this, some things always stay the same: boys still make fun of the girls they like, children still find trends and hobbies at school all important, dares are still being made and met, the older generation still thinks the younger one is out of control, and people still behave and react to each other in the same way they do today. For some reason, I find this extremely comforting.

Montgomery also has an ear for poetry and prose, and her descriptions of Avonlea in all its naturalistic beauty is stunningly beautiful, and only occasionally a bit trite. Anne's imagination and habit for naming things only adds to its richness, and Montgomery creates a tapestry of colours, hues, reflections and atmosphere. On top of this, she has a wonderful sense of humour and often adds the most hilarious scenarios into the story.

Out of everything though, is the beautifully touching relationship between Marilla, Matthew and Anne, so natural and loving that it often brings a tear to my eye. Marilla's criticisms and rules make perfect sense when Montgomery informs us that the old woman feels rather suspicious of her loving feelings toward Anne, and Matthews devotion to her is summed up best by Marilla: "Matthew would think it all right, Anne, if you took a notion to get up and have dinner in the middle of the night." And of course, Anne herself, which I'm sure I've mentioned before - her sunny attitude, her faith in mankind, her extreme temperament... you really need to meet this girl.

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