Thursday, February 6, 2014
Emily Climbs - L .M. Montgomery
I was a little bit annoyed that I couldn't pick up the second two Emily books locally, my very small local Waterstones did have 'Emily of New Moon' in it's 9 -14 years old section but neither of the sequels. Having read 'Emily Climbs' I'm a little bit more sympathetic about it, it's a hard book to classify. It follows Emily from age 14 to 17, and I can't decide at all whether it's meant for children, adults, or even that mysterious (to me) classification of young adult. Depending on the reader anyone could enjoy it, there's certainly nothing unsuitable for younger readers and plenty to entertain adult reader, but I suspect for those in-between it might seem quite tame and old fashioned.
Emily's strict late Victorian childhood as outlined in 'Emily of New Moon' didn't seem as old fashioned or circumscribed as her Edwardian teenage years in a provincial Canadian town - which makes me profoundly grateful to have grown up in a more liberal age. 'Emily Climbs' follows our heroine through her high school years and her development from girl into young woman as well as her burgeoning writing career. In terms of plot she gets a bit older and the scene is set for what I'm guessing are going to be her love affairs in the final part of the trilogy but mostly the book is a series of vignettes, so much so that this could almost be a collection of short stories (I consider that to be a good thing).
In the first book there's an odd incident towards the end that hints at Emily being psychic, this slightly supernatural element is picked up again with a couple of unexplainable by normal means episodes the first of which put me strongly in mind of Jane Eyre. It's at the beginning of the book and is one of the highlights. Emily has gone to a prayer meeting and managed to get herself locked in the church after she returns to search for an incriminating bit of paper just as a storm is about to break. It's bad enough being trapped alone in the church at night in a huge storm but then she feels something furry under her hand and lightening revels a huge black dog with glowing eyes - even the strongest spirit would quail. As the very worst of the storm abates though Emily realises there is someone else in the church - a mad old man desperately seeking his dead bride of years ago, it's the beginning of a truly nightmarish chase round the blacked out church, Emily is terrified of being caught by his blood red (birth marked) hand with which he's known to grip onto young girls whilst he strokes their hair imagining they're his lost love. In her panic she calls out to her friend Teddy who comes to rescue her just in time (from over a mile away, voice in a dream - pure Jane Eyre). Afterwards in the graveyard just when they're about to share a first kiss his mother turns up and has her own moment of melodrama over Emily stealing her son away from her. This quickly escalates as Emily gives her what foe in return and poor Teddy clearly just wants the ground to swallow him up.
There is also an interesting little section towards the end when Emily goes to her old teacher for advice - should she go off to America to pursue her dreams or should she stay in Canada, Montgomery has the teacher tell her she would be a fool not to go but also declare that he dreamed of her staying and contributing to a specifically Canadian literature. I don't know much about Canadian literature, a love of Robertson Davies and Rohan O'Grady's 'Let's Kill Uncle' doesn't amount to much and nor do a couple of Margaret Atwood's and a single volume of Alice Munro but the result of reading Montgomery is that I want to know more about her and how she fitted into the literary scene of her day, and by extension much more about Canadian lit generally.