Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
Published by William Morrow on October 23, 2018
Genres: Adult Fiction, Canada, Cultural, Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction
Length: 320 pages Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
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Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother has dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.
In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.
Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers and William Morrow in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Marilla of Green Gables is one of those books that I requested so fast. I absolutely adore Anne of Green Gables – no other story has captured my heart quite so much. So, even though I knew that Marilla’s story would be different, everything in my heart and soul needed this book.
I confess – it took me a little while to get into Marilla of Green Gables. I was immediately disappointed that it wasn’t as charming as Anne’s version of the story. Marilla felt like a different person, and I was grumpy, and I didn’t like it. Then enter Rachel White – to become Rachel Lynde – and suddenly things felt more… right. There’s a throwaway comment in Anne of Green Gables that Rachel Lynde was known to talk too much without thinking in her day, and seeing her as a young woman made me laugh. Rachel is very much like Anne and Diana combined, and she brought a little bit of life into the story. From there, everything fell together.
The characters are mesmerizing. As I said, it threw me at first, because it felt… wrong. They didn’t feel like they did in the Anne books, but once life started rolling them forward, they became the characters I knew and loved. And in some cases, like Matthew’s, more’s the pity.
Avonlea is still wonderful. A lot of the magic of the island comes through Anne’s imagination, so of course there is no Lake of Shining Waters. The hearty love of the land still blossoms, and it feels down to earth. If anything, I think the setting most resembles Anne of Avonlea, which has actually been my least favorite so far, because there was so much less magic to Anne. Green Gables feels newer and less broken in, but the character of the island itself is still very much alive.
There is Sarah McCoy’s writing, however. There’s nothing wrong with it… it’s simply the fact that her writing is not as beautiful as L.M. Montgomery’s. This is to be expected, but there is something about the simplicity and the writing that brings Avonlea to a next level as Montgomery wrote it… it’s simply not the same. But Sarah McCoy put together a very solid historical fiction novel and I felt like it kept true to the characters, for the most part. There were some aspects that surprised me a little and I’m not entirely sure they would have been true to character (not untrue either, just… unexpected?) but all in all, I think it came together very nicely.
I appreciated the way the author went about treating the romance. As we know, Marilla and Matthew are both unattached at the beginning of the Anne books. I can see where many authors may have been tempted to use this prequel to provide a whirlwind romance that ended in tragedy and dramatize the whole thing. There’s no such gesture here – everything feels like a nod to the original series and you can tell that Sarah has worked hard to make these books feel as genuine as possible. No flourish, no flair – they are simply Marilla and Matthew, and that is how they should be.
I think that hardcore Anne fans may have a little bit of difficulty with this one, but there’s a lot of respect in the way Sarah McCoy went about researching and getting the family’s permission to carry on with Marilla’s story. It’s not perfectly the story we all know and love so much, but it is still a good book. For those who enjoy – but aren’t scholars of – Anne of Green Gables, I think this is a good choice, as well as any fans of historical fiction.
Marilla of Green Gables stays on the shelf.
You know, I think I would sit down and read this one again?
I think it’s Avonlea – I’m so enchanted by this place that even a book written a century later piques my attention and pulls me in, if only to absorb the words of this beautiful place one more time with a fresh perspective.
Do you want to hear the stories of any other characters from classic novels? I’ll admit, I hadn’t thought about it much leading up to reading this one, but now that I have, I feel like I want to know more about Captain Nemo’s backstory from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. What about y’all? Lemme know in the comments!