Thursday, November 1, 2018

Marilla of Green Gables (Book Review)

Title: Marilla of Green Gables 
Author: Sarah McCoy
Publication: William Morrow hardcover, October 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: This book imagines the life of Marilla Cuthbert before she took in orphaned Anne Shirley, beloved heroine of Anne of Green Gables.  In 19th century Prince Edward Island, Marilla and her older brother Matthew lived in Avonlea in the newly built homestead known as Green Gables.  That is most of what we know about the middle-aged Cuthbert siblings.  In this story, Marilla loses her beloved mother at 13, and takes over her responsibilities of caring for their home as well as her father and Matthew.   However, it is her mother’s twin, Izzy, a woman who left Avonlea and made a career as a dressmaker in Ontario who both intrigues and puzzles Marilla.   She cannot imagine leaving home but she is curious about someone who has.  There are familiar names: Rachel White who becomes the infamous Rachel Lynde, the Pye family, Andrews sisters, and – most importantly – John Blythe, who was Marilla’s beau.  Marilla’s sarcastic tongue and outlook are recognizable in this younger version and are actually responsible for the rift with John Blythe, father of you know who. . .

Audience: The book works as a standalone but is more likely to be of interest to Anne of Green Gables fans
In 2014, I visited Green Gables with my friends Joan and Ellen
My Impressions: Everyone who read and loved Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery knows how Marilla Cuthbert originally wanted to provide a home to a male orphan who would help her brother Matthew with the chores, and got Anne instead, but came to love her.   Late in AOGG, Marilla mentions that John Blythe was once considered her beau.   Due to her love-hate relationship with John’s son Gilbert, Anne is intrigued but gets little information from Marilla.   Like many of us diehard Anne fans, Sarah McCoy wondered about Marilla’s backstory and she eventually undertook to write it.

There are positive aspects of this book: it is well researched and takes place in Prince Edward Island, a place many of us love without having visited or, in fact, have pilgrimaged to, as I did.   But it is also easy to be critical of it.  In some ways it is successful in what it attempts to do – tell a plausible story about Marilla’s life before Anne Shirley.   But is it convincing?   I admire Sarah McCoy’s writing and enjoyed meeting her in person several years ago.   The book is very readable and interesting (although I dreaded the inevitable rift with John Blythe) but, ultimately, I was not convinced she captured more than just the names of inhabitants and places of Avonlea and environs.  Matthew is recognizable but the Marilla who is engrossed by Canadian politics and who becomes an abolitionist is just not recognizable as the woman who quizzes Anne on Sunday sermons and tells her she is vain, although both have a strong sense of duty.   I was reminded of another L.M. Montgomery character who tells Emily Starr that the best countries like the best women have no history (granted, (a) this is sexist and (b) at 10 or 12 I had no idea what it meant for women to have a history).  There was a lot of Canadian history in this book, which I found interesting, but was different from LMM’s focus on small-town interrelationships.
"Anne" strolls about Green Gables in costume

The writing was usually very strong but I found little things extremely jarring, such as the use of contractions, not by characters in conversation, but in the narrative prose.  I do not believe that Rachel’s mother, Mrs. White, who is Protestant, would have made a half-hearted sign of the cross out of courtesy to a nun (another character’s irrational suspicion of Catholics is probably more typical of the time).  I thought Marilla’s father was too dour to kiss his wife or daughter as often as was depicted.  Her mother puts her feet up in the parlor (!) saying, perhaps anachronistically, that she hates to spoil the fun of a trip to town.   And giggly Rachel White, although a good foil for serious Marilla, bears no resemblance to forthright Mrs. Lynde, except in their love of gossip.  

Top Ten Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe Romantic Moments: I thought I would share this again.
Source: I was provided a copy of Marilla of Green Gables by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes.   You should read it yourself and let me know what you think   Other reviews from the tour are available by clicking below:
October 23rd: Joy Runs Deeper
October 26th: Into the Hall of Books
October 30th: BookNAround
October 31st: A Chick Who Reads
November 5th: The Book Diva’s Reads
November 6th: Instagram: @writersdream
November 7th: Literary Quicksand
November 9th: Instagram: @wellreadmama
November 12th: Openly Bookish
November 13th: Tina Says…
November 16th: Instagram: @hothanjama_
November 16th: Kahakai Kitchen


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I've always wondered about Marilla!
Thanks for being on the tour!

JaneGS said...

I hate to say it but it just doesn’t appeal to me. I think Marilla is a particularly hard character to pin down, with incredible contractions, inhibitions, and a big heart. I don’t see her as an abolitionist. I decided to take a pass on this one, and I think the pass holds.

Excellent review—it’s always hard when you have mixed feelings.