As a kid, I loved L.M. Montgomery’s books. They were cozy and sweet and always had a happy ending. I read and re-read each one; I owned most of Montgomery’s books and got the others from the library. I read the series and the novels and the short stories. They were my ultimate comfort reading and I never seemed to get tired of them.
I’d heard that a new book of Montgomery’s had been published and that some were touting it as #9 in the Anne series but by this time it was 2009 and it had been a few years since my obsession with Montgomery. Reminded about it again recently, I thought it might be a nice, cozy fall read and got it out from the library.
Here’s what you need to know: There isn’t a lot of new material in this book. All but one of the stories here were collected many years ago and published as The Road to Yesterday. There are a few minor changes but the stories are the same. The first story in this collection, “Some Fools and a Saint” is new and is a nice long short story with a decent mystery but all the rest were ones I’d read previously. The new content is primarily made up of poems and short dialogue between members of the Blythe family. These little vignettes are placed between stories and exist around the premise of Anne reading the family her own poems and, sometimes, Walter’s. The family comments on them and sometimes share further thoughts. These sections are very short, there isn’t any sort of plot and they tell us only the tiniest bit about the Blythe family (and really, nothing new if you’ve read the rest of the series).
What is, perhaps, illuminating is what it shows us about L.M. Montgomery herself. What I didn’t know as a kid, reading and re-reading her happy books, was how deeply unhappy Lucy Maud herself was. Her own happy ending and her own lovely romance never came. I remember as a teenager being dismayed to learn that she had lived away from her beloved Prince Edward Island for much of her life. The stories in this collection and the poems are organized the way Montgomery herself ordered them, which is different than the way they are collected in The Road to Yesterday. She has divided them here according to the first and second world war. The glimpses of Blythe conversation we get show us how futile the war has been. After the First World War and the terrible loss of their son Walter, they are not experiencing the peaceful world they hoped for. Instead, Anne and Gilbert watch their grandsons go off to the Second World War.
The stories themselves were fun to re-read but haven’t all aged well. Whether it’s how Penelope Craig needs to have a husband in order to raise children in “Penelope Struts Her Theories” or how dare Chrissy Clark start dating a gardener in “The Pot and the Kettle” or simply the fact that babies born out of wedlock are not the social shock they once were, these stories show a society that has long been extinct if, indeed, it ever truly existed at all.
This book is worth reading for fans of L.M. Montgomery who will enjoy the glimpses it gives us of the Blythe family and their life in Glen St. Mary and who will probably like the old-fashioned, happy stories. If you’re new to or ambivalent toward Montgomery though, this probably isn’t for you.