I must have read this book dozens of times when I was a kid (I think I had an illustrated version as well, but I can’t find it, nor any record of it online, so far all I know I may have made it up?), but I haven’t read it, oh I don’t know, at least since middle school? I also never read any of L.M. Montgomery’s other books. No idea why I did this. Even as a kid, I was all over sequels, a little completionist in training. But maybe it’s because just reading this one book feels like enough. It ends where it ends, and at a place that feels like an actual ending.
All that is to say it was sort of surreal revisiting this book. I have all these distorted memories of the book’s events floating around from childhood, and those memories of the way I used to see the book kept clashing with my current perceptions. And current me has a very different reaction to some of them. How did nine year old Ashley not know how utterly heartbreaking this book was??
I guess it’s not really all that surprising from a distance, and I really should have seen it coming, but even though I feel a great fondness for Anne Shirley (and the scene when she thinks she’s going to be sent away from Green Gables was wrenching), it was Marilla and her reactions that got to me this time around. As a kid, you sort of buy in to Anne’s self-created mythos. She’s an aspirational figure who has romanticized her own life, and the impulse is for kid readers to do the same. Anne is the tragic orphan who is romantically adopted by a childless pair of siblings and grows into a kind, thoughtful young woman as a result (while getting into lots of ridiculous scrapes, of course). But from this side of adolescence, Marilla’s struggles in raising such a headstrong, talkative and imaginative child (a thing she’d never imagined for herself), and the love that grows between them without either of them realizing it is just so bittersweet.
I would like to continue on with this series eventually, I think, but I’m going to sit on it a while. For now it’s enough for me to know that Anne will be okay, and yes, she probably has kisses with Gilbert Blythe in her near future.
I did read the new Audible version this go-round, narrated by Rachel McAdams (Canadian!). I ended up really enjoying it, but it was sort of difficult at first not to just keep thinking, That’s Rachel McAdams! the whole time. Once you get past that, though, she really manages to capture Anne’s breathless dreaminess, Marilla’s stern kindness, and Matthew’s quiet solidness.