Monday, 12 May 2008
Weekly Geeks #3 and Emily of New Moon
Dewey has put as this week's challenge, that we write about our fond memories of our childhood books. I will do a longer post about my favourites while growing up, but for today, I thought I'd combine a post about one of my favourite books as a child with a review of it for the Canadian Book Challenge.
Emily of New Moon is by Lucy Maud Montgomery, one of the most famous Canadian authors we have ever produced. The Emily books consist of three books: Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily's Quest. They cover her ages from 10 to around 18 (I think. I don't have a copy of Emily's Quest on hand to check. But she is able to support herself at the end of the books!) While Emily Starr and LM Montgomery's more famous character Anne Shirley of Green Gables share flights of fancy, strong characterization, and wonderful settings, where they differ is that Emily knows from almost the beginning that she is going to be a writer. I loved Anne, but just as much I loved Emily Starr and her books. Emily was the first character I met, as a child, who knew they were going to be a writer when they grew up. Harriet the Spy was a spy (even though she wrote), and everyone else I read were either going to be nurses or teachers. Emily had to write, and part of the delight of her books is seeing her developing writing skill - we get to read her childish poetry, her first letters to her dead father, her growing sense of how to use words to capture the magic of the landscape around her.
As always, the book is set in PEI, but nearer the water - Blair Water is the nearest village, and New Moon is the name of the family farm that Emily comes to live at, after her parents die. She lives with her middle-aged single aunts, Elizabeth and Laura, and Cousin Jimmy (who is really her uncle), who had an accident as a child and is considered 'simple' as a result. Emily of New Moon is about Emily and her relatives getting to know one another, much as Anne and Marilla and Matthew in Anne of Green Gables spend the first book getting to know each other as well. At the end of Emily of New Moon, like Anne of GG, Emily knows she is going to stay - she and Aunt Elizabeth have reached a kind of understanding of each other, and recognize the importance of the other in their lives. Again, much like Anne and Marilla. But there the similarity really ends. While both are series of children, Anne is in love with the world around her, and the books are about her adventures as she grows up. Emily is focused on writing early, and so what we see is PEI through the eyes of writer. This means Emily wonders from an early age about why people are the way they are, and she has an eye for seeing the truth of people that comes out delightfully in her descriptions that she either thinks to herself, or writes. There is the requisite best friend - in this book, Ilse is the neglected one and nearly as magnetic in personality as Emily, unlike the slightly wimpy and so sweet Diana of Green Gables, and early on the boys show a definite liking for Emily. She is magnetic, and affects everyone around her, and they react to her just as strongly. This is a fascinating study of people, and I never tire of Montgomery's amazing ability to capture a person with just a few words. In this book also, Emily and her friends are going to be someone when they grow up - Emily a writer, Teddy a painter, Ilse a speaker, and Perry the premier of the province. It is fun to see these dynamic characters become friends, and how they relate to one another as they grow up.
Emily is a character who her father says 'loves deeply' and feels things passionately, which gives the novel its momentum and makes the book almost unputdownable. In fact, I know have to go and buy the next two in the series so I can finish it soon! Emily has a temper also, and this lands her in trouble. The difference is that Anne tries to be good, whereas Emily tries to be right. Daily life is described in detail on the New Moon farm. One interesting thing I discovered, was that my reading earlier this year of The Settler's Handbook by Catherine Parr Traill, gave me the knowledge to see New Moon clearly for the first time - Aunt Elizabeth is old-fashioned, so as Jimmy says when they arrive, the farm is farmed '50 years back', which sets it around 1850-1860. There was the dairy room, where the milk was skimmed and cream lifted, there was the larder, the cook room set away from the main kitchen. It was fascinating to read about the ice house, and to be able to understand that Montgomery was writing about a real farm, as it was in Canada at that time period. And, I imagined the scene Emily describes, as something I would have found at my own great-great-grandparents farm in southern Ontario!
This book is sweet and funny, and terribly moving. I don't know what it is about L.M. Montgomery's writing, but she can make me cry and laugh in almost the same moment. Imagine my horror when last week, reading Emily of New Moon on the bus, I found myself crying as her father dies!!! And I was very glad that I read the last part of the book at home, in which Emily nearly dies and solves a long-standing mystery in an uncanny way of her own. I wept and wondered that I, 44 years old, could cry over a children's book that I know almost by heart! But that is the beauty and wonder of Lucy Maud Montgomery's writing, for me.
If you haven't read about Emily of New Moon yet, then I highly recommend this book. I love it as much now as I did as a child. And yes, I'm still trying to be a writer! So in its quiet way, this book is encouragement for anyone who has a dream.