Before Green Gables

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I am a die-hard Lucy Maud Montgomery fan (I mean, look at my blog title). I have read every novel she has written and a fair chunk of her short stories. So if she thought she had given enough details concerning Anne's prior life, who are we to question it?

But at the same time, I have a guilty addiction to spin-offs. I loved (and recently discovered one about Rhett called Rhett Butler's People. Dying to read it. Even though no one seems to have liked it). I read the frightfully depressing sequel to Rebecca about Mrs. Dewinter just because it was more of the story. And Jean Rhys' The Wide Sargasso Sea is definitely on hold for me at the library. So I couldn't resist this one when I came across it in the Winco checkout line, even though I think Lucy Maud Montgomery is less spinoffable then other authors I love.

But with all those disclaimers out of the way, this was an entertaining read. In Anne of Green Gables, you get hints about Anne's past. (My favorite is her constant, out-of-breath telling of how Mrs. Hammond had "three sets of twins in succession!"). I always felt familiar with these characters even though I wasn't given much background information. I always saw Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Hammond as mean, slave-driving women. They didn't want to keep Anne (who is everyone's darling), so how could they have a shred of humanity about them?

The most redeeming quality of this book is the way it gives depth to these lesser known, stereotyped as bad characters. You see that Mrs. Thomas loved Anne's parents, even though she is harsh and angry. You see that her drunk husband tries desperately to overcome his addictions. You experience in painful detail just what having twins three times in succession is like.

The least redeeming quality is the way Budge tries to cleverly explain so many details of Anne's life. I am not sure why this bugged me, exactly. I just felt like it was too contrived. For example, Anne's teacher gives her a bottle of ipecac. "Then she gave Anne a small bottle containing a dark liquid. [...] Then Miss Henderson told Anne exactly what croup was, and exactly how to use the medicine." (pg 209). Insert knowing wink here. Honestly, this shows a great attention to detail and trying to make the book seem like it fit, but it seemed too obvious, too puzzle-perfect. Kind of like how in Harry Potter, once they learn a new spell, fifteen pages later the perfect opportunity to use it appears.

Another thing that bothered me was that there were some new significant players in Anne's life, such as previous teachers, a daughter of Mrs. Thomas, etc. Some of these people played very significant roles in the story, but obviously never appear in the real Anne books. There is a sort of blanket sweep at the end where as Anne sees Prince Edward Island rising before her, she decides to forget all her previous unhappiness and wipe it out of her mind. But this didn't seem very believable to me either.

With all that said, it was an entertaining book. I'm glad I checked it out from the library instead of buying it at Winco. But I enjoyed it. Writing a prequel or sequel to a classic is no easy undertaking, and Budge Wilson definitely paid attention to detail and developed some characters that previously had been one sided. For that I commend her. For the cheesy wink wink moments? Not so much. 3 stars.


  1. Spin-offs are pretty much just fan-fiction that got lucky (i.e. got published).

    I like your review though - just enough info about the book but not too much. But I think I'll pass on this one - Lucy Maud Montgomery did cover Anne's past and I'm not really interested in learning more about other people.

  2. I had no idea this was out there. Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorite stories growing up. I'll have to put this one on my library list. Thanks!

  3. Ugh!!! Rhett Butler's People was a terrible book. My favorite novel is GWTW. He didn't get the characters right, and the ending? Pfft.

    (I loved hearing about Montgomery's Anne, though, in this post, lol.)


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