This column is a terrible, horrible, no good very bad review, because it begins by completely ruining a book. It begins by spoiling the end.
The book is titled Before Green Gables.
Red-haired moppet Anne Shirley is living in a Nova Scotia orphanage, desperate to be adopted, when a woman arrives and chooses her for some friends, two siblings looking for help on their farm in Prince Edward Island. And here it is, the novel’s very last sentence: “When the train slowed, and the conductor called out ‘Bright River!’, Anne rose without a word or a backward glance, and, clutching her bag with both hands, walked along the aisle and down the steps of the train into her new life.”
That sentence, of course, brings us to the beginning of another book, Anne Of Green Gables, published in 1908.
Yes, 100 years after the first appearance of Anne Of Green Gables, author Budge Wilson was commissioned to imagine a prequel, Anne-with-an-E’s life before Lucy Maud Montgomery’s delightful and iconic story captured the imaginations of multiple generations of children.
Anne Of Green Gables was an immediate hit, and sold 19,000 copies within five months. Montgomery wrote sequels galore (plus the Emily books, all filed in the Lennoxville Library’s children’s section, and a few standalone novels for adults).
The book Before Green Gables begins with an entertainingly saccharine portrayal of Anne’s parents, newly married and deliriously happy. Of course, they die soon after the child’s birth. A neighbour takes Anne in, and immediately sets her to work. Laundry, cleaning, burping babies – Anne’s life becomes one of endless drudgery.
The family is poor, and the husband drinks. He can lose control of his temper (and his fists). The wife is always angry and demanding.
When Anne is finally old enough, school is liberating.
Many adventures ensue.
Wilson’s writing is smooth and engaging, the story imaginative and well researched (both in terms of explaining Anne’s personality, and in offering an accurate portrayal of the times). It’s a satisfying read for Anne fans.
Author Budge Wilson started life as a writer after multiple careers – she’s been a photographer, artist and fitness instructor. She now lives in a small Nova Scotia fishing village, and has written more than 30 books, many of them for children and young adults, and collected up an astonishing number of awards, including a Governor-General’s nomination.
Meanwhile Anne with an E has been embedded into Prince Edward’s Island psychic identity and is an important part of PEI’s economic engine. There’s a national historic site, and her very name is jointly owned by the province and Montgomery’s heirs. Indeed, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Anne Of Green Gables – The Musical, showing in Charlottetown at the Confederation Centre Of The Arts (playing until Sept. 24, then again and again and again in summers to come; pundits are noticing that ticket sales, however, are beginning to drop). Right across the street, the newer Anne And Gilbert – The Musical, is scheduled to run until mid October (it’s a tale of our grownup heroine and her beau).
Before Green Gables was given to the library by Kathleen Weary via the Adopt-a-Book campaign. It’s filed in Adult Fiction, but younger fans will also enjoy the book – there’s tragedy, certainly, but also hope. And gumption.
Need even more Anne? The PEI tourism department features a section devoted to her alone on its website, at http://www.tourismpei.com.
– Eleanor Brown, August 8, 2014