Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Emily of New Moon - L M Montgomery
I wasn't entirely sure how much I'd enjoy 'Emily of New Moon' - beloved children's authors don't always stand up to adult reading. 'The Blue Castle' was fun but specifically billed as an adult book whereas 'Emily' sounded more like something meant for children, I added it to my Christmas wish list anyway and was more than happy when mum obliged with a copy. Initially it seemed my worst fears would be realised - Emily is an annoyingly winsome child living with her adoring father in a dream of poor-but-happy domestic bliss, fortunately for the reader though he's in the final stages of consumption and soon dies leaving Emily orphaned, penniless, and in the hands of her mother's estranged family. They make her draw lots to see who will take her on which is how she ends up at New Moon farm with aunts Elizabeth and Laura and Cousin Jimmy.
When the book opens Emily is around 11 years old and the first half is mostly taken up with how she settles into her new life, makes friends, and survives all the pitfalls of childhood. Emily isn't a precisely beautiful child but she has a great deal of charm and personality as well as a burning desire to write and the imagination to go along with that. Her school teacher and aunt Elizabeth might find her exasperating but most the other people who come into contact with her are instantly and deeply charmed. I managed to be charmed too - Montgomery is good at showing the injustices that can make up a child's life - the callous way her fate is decided, run ins with her horrible teacher, the minefield that adolescent friendships are made up of - are all done brilliantly.
The second half of the book deals with more complex and increasingly adult issues. One thing I didn't much enjoy from the first half is the way that Montgomery has Emily narrate through a series of letters to her dead father complete with spelling mistakes, these slowly disappear which is a relief. In there place are a number of relationships; there is Ilse, a tempestuous and neglected child with whom Emily has a stormy friendship with just an occasionally competitive edge to it, Perry the houseboy with ability and ambitions who falls in love with Emily almost at first sight, and Teddy Kent who seems to be the boy that Emily prefers. Teddy's mother is the curious thing here, she's obsessive in her love for her son going as far as poisoning his cats when she feels he's become to fond of them. There is also Dean Priest, a sort of cousin in his 30's who rescues Emily after she's fallen down a cliff and is so enchanted with her that he decides to wait for her to grow up.
For a modern reader Dean is quite unsettling in a way I don't think Montgomery intended. He too, it seems, falls in love with something in Emily at first sight but she's only 12 at this point and it turns out that he was a friend of her fathers. They develop a friendship of their own which is all quite proper except for the lurking suspicion that Dean is waiting for something more and this is how the book ends. Emily is 13, she's leaving childhood behind, there's a consensus that she has some talent as a writer with the possibility of a career ahead of her, and there are all the makings of a few love triangles and tragedies ahead. I have ordered the rest of the trilogy so guess I'll find out what happens next soon enough.