12/11/2003

Anne of Green Gables (by L M Montgomery)

Lucy Maud Montgomery was a Canadian writer born about 125 years ago. She wrote her most famous book, 'Anne of Green Gables' in 1908; yet it's still in print nearly 100 years later, and while it's obviously dated, it doesn't seem old-fashioned at all.

The book opens with what is probably the longest sentence in literature - one which takes a third of a page to describe a stream, and which might seem at first glance off-putting in the extreme. Don't give up! There's delightful humour in this introduction, talking as it does about the stream becoming quiet and well-conducted as it passes Mrs Rachel Lynde's home. Rachel Lynde is an elderly and upright lady who sees everything in black and white, and who features from time to time in the book, often clashing in some way with Anne.

We're then introduced to Matthew and Marilla, a hard-working and aging brother and sister who have decided, after much thought, to adopt an orphan boy to help them with their chores.

So Matthew drives to the station to meet the boy, who should have been sent over from an orphanage in Nova Scotia. When he gets there, he finds that a mistake has been made: instead of a strong lad, he finds Anne - an eleven-year-old girl, who is so excited about the thought of being adopted that he cannot find any way of telling her that he doesn't want her. So he takes her home.

Despite Anne's being completely unsuited for the jobs Matthew wanted the boy to do, and despite her irritating Marilla by her continual chatter and excessive imagination, they decide to keep her, at least to start with. So starts this famous book which is the first in a series of eight books featuring Anne as she grows, learns, matures, and (in later books) gets married and raises her own family.

In 'Anne of Green Gables' we see Anne as she grows from childhood to her teens. She makes friends, goes to school, falls into scrapes, and frequently expresses her mind (and her feelings) in ways which her elderly guardians find disturbing and unsettling. Nevertheless she finds her way firmly into their hearts - and, indeed, those of almost everyone who reads the book.

There is humour in the story, inevitable in some of Anne's wilder escapades, and also in the way she dramatises everything. There are also some very moving moments. Although the book is written in the third person, almost everything is seen through Anne's eyes, and I find myself relating to her strongly.

This is a book which has a wide appeal. There isn't a huge amount of plot - the entire series is a little like a forerunner of modern family sagas. The language is long-winded, in places, and a little old-fashioned, not surprising given that it was first published in 1925, but it's not difficult for a reasonably fluent reader. I red it first as a young teenager; as an adult I've re-read this and the sequels, and thoroughly enjoyed them every time.

Definitely recommended.

(My slightly longer review of 'Anne of Green Gables' is on the Ciao site)

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