Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (1908)

Siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are expecting to adopt an orphan boy to help around the house, so when Anne Shirley comes to them at Green Gables, they are completely surprised. Matthew takes a liking to her instantly, but it takes some convincing before Marilla decides not to send her back to the orphanage. Even then, Marilla and Anne have many ups and downs as Anne makes a life for herself in Avonlea and overcomes the hardships of her past.

When I was a kid, maybe around four years old, maybe a little older, I saw a clip from an adaptation of Anne of Green Gables on television. In my memory, this is a scene where Anne walks across a fence and falls. That night, for some reason, that scene replayed in my dream, and then I had a horrible nightmare. Though the scene from Anne of Green Gables was not scary unto itself, I always associated that scene, as well as the book, with the unsettling feeling of that nightmare. This is why, until now, I had never read this book.

Now that I have read it, I am not certain it is a book I would have enjoyed as a kid, but it is absolutely a book I enjoyed reading as an adult. I completely understand why people like Anne. From her effusive way of expressing her feelings about anything and everything, to her wonderful imagination, to the utterly human mistakes she makes, she is a character that is easy to relate to and easy to root for. She is both fascinating and sympathetic, the kind of friend every girl wishes she had, and also very much like many girls in her desire for a "bosom friend," her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe, and her feelings of awkwardness about her own appearance.

I also love the way L.M. Montgomery writes. Her descriptions paint vivid pictures of Avonlea and its inhabitants. I love the little foibles of people like Matthew, who has trouble interacting with women, and Mrs. Rachel who has an opinion about everything and uses the phrase "that's what" to punctuate her sentences. These people feel very real, and because the point of view shifts from character to character, they also provide important insight into Anne as a character. It is interesting to realize how much a child reader might miss on a first reading that would become apparent upon a re-reading later in life. I also love how many wonderfully memorable and quotable lines there are in this book. Many of these I have seen out of context over the years, and they are even more meaningful now that I know how they connect to the story. I couldn't even pick a favorite; if I was the kind of reader who wrote in her books, I'd have highlighted something on nearly every page.

It is just a coincidence that I am reading this book around the same time as the release of Anne with an E on Netflix, but I completely understand why so many fans of Anne, particularly in the Catholic circles where I've been following the reviews and discussions, are so horrified by this new dark take on the story. Of course, there is a dark side to Anne Shirley's past, but one of the reasons the book is so beloved and so wonderful, is that it doesn't dwell on the darkness. This is an uplifting story where a lovable underdog turns out okay, and there is no reason for it to be made into anything else. Not every dark corner of every sad story needs to be explored; with so many "edgy" books out there now, it is comforting to know that at least one gentle, funny, and ultimately happy story is still there to fall back into. I understand wanting that story to be preserved and protected from contemporary notions of entertainment.

Though I was not a kid who would have read this book willingly, I suspect my own girls may be different, and I look forward to seeing their reactions to Anne when they are older. I'm also really eager to get into the sequels, and to read more from Chronicles of Avonlea, which I will be doing as part of the Deal Me in Challenge. I'm glad to finally have moved past the Anne of my childhood nightmare, and to know this character and enjoy her the way everyone else does.

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