27/11/2004

Pat of Silver Bush (by L M Montgomery)

I do like classic children's books, and always enjoy those by LM Montgomery. She's best known, of course, for her 'Anne of Green Gables'series, but recently some of her other books have been reprinted inexpensively, and we've started buying a few of them.

'Pat of Silver Bush' has as its focus a family living at Silver Bush, a farm in Prince Edward Island in the 1920s. Pat is eight years old when the story opens, but it's fairly clear immediately that this book isn't really intended for children of that age. We meet Pat in conversation with Judy, a somewhat elderly Irish lady who has worked for the family since Pat's father was a child. But we don't just read Pat's side of the conversation, we get Judy's as well, and her thoughts behind what they're talking about.

In the opening chapter we learn that a new baby is expected at Silver Bush, and that Judy is afraid that Pat - currently the youngest of the family - will find this distressing. In those days children were evidently not informed of an impending new baby, nor even that babies grow inside their mothers. So Judy tells Pat that she will find the baby in her parsley bed... which seems to me a highly unlikely tale to be swallowed, even by this imaginative and dreamy child.

Pat is a distinct individual whose main problem is that she does not like change of any sort. She is an odd little person: believing in fairies and ghosts, enjoying hearing Judy's tales of gruesome happenings in the past, and yet utterly devoted to her home and family. She grieves even when a tree is cut down. She dreads growing up, and is determined never to marry but to spend all her days at Silver Bush.

The book follows Pat's life as she grows up, with the plot weaving in and out of the daily lives of the rest of the family. Of course she has to be introduced to changes. Slowly she learns to enjoy the positive ones and to deal constructively with the negative ones. She goes to school, makes friends, and matures amongst her loved ones; she even falls briefly in love a couple of times, although it does not seem that any young man can compete with the claims of Silver Bush.

I did find myself skimming some descriptions as well as some of Judy's more long-winded pronouncements! Yet the main characters seem fresh and believable, and their interactions realistic, on the whole. It's the kind of book I would have enjoyed as a teenager, had I known it existed. It would probably appeal to anyone who likes the 'Anne' books, or others of that era and genre where characterisation and moral values were really more important than plot. It's quite thought-provoking in places, too.

Recommended, for anyone who likes the 'Anne of Green Gables' style of book.

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