Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Before Green Gables

Perhaps a better title would have been Anne's Depths of Despair. I stumbled across this book at Nichola's Books right after it was released in February. It was in the children's section, but I don't think this is a children's book. Its best audience is perhaps adults who grew up with Anne and are intrigued enough to take a chance on a prequel by a different author. I've spoken with a number of Anne fans who have no interest whatsoever in this book. They cringed and shuddered at the thought of a prequel. I recently read William Horwood's sequel to Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows and enjoyed it very much. So I took the chance myself.

The novel is well researched. Time and place are very well mapped out. How household tasks were performed and the artifacts used to do this are all explained. We learn the origins of many things like Anne's imaginary friends Katie Maurice and Violetta, the source of her advanced vocabulary and how she learned to administer ipecac for croup. This is all satisfying to the Anne fan, but not really enough to make the journey through cruelty, alcoholism, tragic death and betrayal worth it.

This book, while compelling, is rather exhausting. Anne's life of horrendous drudgery and disappointment is very depressing. There are a few kindred spirits here and there but they have too little authority to rescue Anne from her life of toil and pain. When I finished this book I immediately re-read the first several chapters of Anne of Green Gables in order to see Anne safely to a better place.

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