Saturday, April 12, 2008

14, Before Green Gables

The title:
Before Green Gables
The author: Budge Wilson
Publication: Viking, 2008
Got it from: Library

This weekend, I will be reviewing not one, not two, but three books! First up: Before Green Gables.

This book is a very interesting curiosity to me, as it brings together two of my favourite authors - perhaps two of my favourite people.

As those near and dear can attest, my LM Montgomery love goes way, way back to when I was a wee one and we used to visit Prince Edward Island over many a summer, it being not so far from where I lived. After seeing Anne of Green Gables: the musical at the tender age of seven, I was determined to read the whole Anne series. Thus, my first literary obsession (of many) was born. Over my childhood years, I collected all 30+ of Maud's works and read and re-read them religiously. The "big one" of course was Anne, but I also loved her lesser heroines: Pat, Emily, Valency et al. This led me to the dark and fascinating world of Maud's journals, which caused me to suspect that we were possibly the same person separated by 100 or so years. I still swear that her journals are by far the best thing she ever wrote, but since they're not "sunny" and Maud is no "plucky heroine" they're generally not read. I could go on, but that'd be boring.

This leads me to Budge Wilson. She is the "other" great Canadian children's writer in my life. Her short story collection, The Leaving, remains a pivotal point in my reading development and it certainly became an entry for me into more adult works. She's still the only short story writer that I will read - but this is not to say her chapter books aren't great either.

Our paths have crossed five time. The first time I met her, I was nine years old and she was visiting my hometown on an author tour. The last time was two years ago in Halifax. On our fourth meeting, she remembered me and invited me to sit with her and we shared cake in honour of Hans Christian Anderson's 100th birthday. She is absolutely lovely and I adored her immediately. The last time I saw her, she talked about a "secret project" she was working on which she couldn't reveal just yet.

The"secret project" turned out to be the sequel to Anne of Green Gables, which was commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the publication of the original.* I was concerned at first - if the book sucked, would it bring down not one, but two of my favourite authors?

I needn't have worried. Budge Wilson, as I have said, is a great author and she really channels Maud's spirit here. A word of warning, though: this book is heartbreakingly sad. I'm not usually moved by sentimental drivel, but this managed to crack my hardened heart. The death of Anne's parents was almost unbearably hard to read, as were the descriptions of Anne's abuse at the hands of her so-called caretakers. What I really liked was how characters that could have been one-dimensional caricatures were turned into more rounded people. The drunken Mr. Thomas, for example, reveals a softer side and the mother with eight children, Mrs. Hammond, is shown to be really a young woman overwhelmed with her duties, who has no chance to just live.

This book is quite long for a children's book and there's a lot in here to take in, but it's worth it for those who are patient. And since we all know there's going to be a happy ending, we can endure everything Anne suffers. A-

*I am drooling over the re-release of the original hardcover, and I think it's a crime they're not re-releasing all eight in the series. In fact, you can't get the series in hardcover for under $500. This is an absolute outrage.


Jess said...

Hey Kathryn!

I'm really surprised you liked this one. I read it and so did my Mom, Dad, and co-workers who are big L.M.M. fans. We all hated it!!!

It didn't seem to fit with the spirit of the original Anne books to me and the pacing was really weird. I was especially creeped out by the drunken Mr. Thomas having a heartfelt conversation with a little girl in a barn. It just didn't seem right.....even thinking back to some of L.M.M's stories dealing with temperance.

I was really disappointed because I love the writing of both Budge Wilson and L.M.M, but I found this book did neither of them justice.

What is also weird is that this book is not a children's book. It was written for an adult audience.

But, on a happier note, Budge Wilson and a woman who owns L.M.M's scrapbooks is coming to my library for a presentation next week. I hope I'll be able to peek in!

KJH said...

I was kind of surprised about it being classified as an adult work.

I'd be interested to know more about why you didn't like the book. Because to me, it seemed like she could have gone one of two ways...paint the characters as one dimensional villains or flesh them out a bit. I guess she chose the latter. It can't be easy to make Mr. Thomas a sympathetic character.

That said, it can't be easy to take such a beloved literary figure and write about her in a prequel. I didn't exactly "like" the book in the sense that I'd read it again and again, but I thought she did a good job.

(Kind of the opposite of how I think some books are written really crappily but I love them anyway.)