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Book Review: Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson

September 19, 2009
The Canadian Anne Shirley quarter
Image by Mark Blevis via Flickr

Like many other bookish girls, I used to read the stories of Anne Shirley‘s life with a flashlight under the covers (though I must admit I started to get bored when she got married), so when I saw a prequel on the shelf at my local library, I had to pick it up.

Indeed, there is much in the text to recommend it to fans of Anne of Green Gables. Budge Wilson has done her research. She paints an accurate picture of the period in Nova Scotia and carefully structures the details of Anne’s story to fit and foreshadow the events related in L.M. Montgomery‘s books. If her coming across a cat named Gilbert makes you smile, you will find much to enjoy here. That said, certain hints about Anne’s past are ignored: there is no explanation of why she might wish to call herself Cordelia, for instance.

Before Green GablesAlso, while the basic outline of the story is compelling, it gets bogged down under too great a cast of minor characters who pass through Anne’s life too quickly for us to develop much sympathy for them. While it may not be necessary for us to have sympathy with every character we meet, Wilson’s style insists that we at least attempt to do so. Paragraph after paragraph is dedicated to their back story; the perspective leaps from mind to mind for know other purpose than to directly relate characters’ thoughts about themselves or others, often retelling events we’ve already read about in the process. The repetition and exposition make the story drag. So does Wilson’s habit of using rhetorical questions.

Those issues could easily have been fixed by an editor with a strong red pen. More problematic is the way Wilson’s characterization of Anne falters. She talks less like a precocious child and more like an adult with unusual gaps in her knowledge. It isn’t that she seems to have matured early (certainly possible for a girl dealing with so many hardships) as that she thinks and reasons in ways far beyond anything that can be expected from even the most gifted of children. This contributes at times to the impression that Anne has been turned into something of a Mary Sue. There are also seems to be too concerted an effort to give her parents, who die in her infancy, the same personality traits she had. It’s a little too pat of an explanation for my taste, but then I suppose everyone is entitled to a different opinion on the extent to which DNA is destiny.

Despite these shortcomings, Before Green Gables would be a fine choice for a fan of Anne to pick up before a long plane trip. It isn’t great, but it is entertaining.

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