My favorite children’s book is Anne of Green Gables, hand’s down. I can’t remember when I first read it or how I came to possess the book. Presumably my mother bought it for me — I don’t think my pocket money stretched to books when I was under ten. Perhaps she bought it for me after that time she found me reading Sweet Valley High and was horrified (the inside of the book cover said ‘for ages 12 and up’ and I think I was about nine).
Looking back on my childhood reading, it strikes me as utterly eclectic. I read the Anne series (and then searched in vain for years for the Emily series), Little Women (and ALL the Louisa May Alcott books I could find), Long Winter (part of the Little House on the Prairie series — I couldn’t find the rest of the books in Malaysia) and the rest of the other good old-fashioned children’s books. But I also read R.L. Stine and Sweet Valley and Babysitters Club and piles of Archie comics — for a good few years I could not eat my lunch without an Archie comic. After a while finding new ones at the lending library was like finding buried treasure. And oh boy, discovering an unread Double Digest? Thrilled me to the very core of my tweenage soul.
Um. There was no real point to that digression. It was just nice to think about how I read as a child —- indiscriminately and with pure enjoyment. It’s also interesting to realize that my reading patterns haven’t really changed. I still read eclectically, going from horror to literary fiction to YA to fantasy to non-fiction to thrillers. I love Neil Gaiman and Isabel Allende and Jhumpa Lahiri and Terry Pratchett and Stephen King and James Rollins and John Green all equally.
Recently I discovered that a few of LM Montgomery’s other books can be found at Project Gutenberg. So during my lunchtimes I’ve been slowly reading Jane of Lantern Hill.
What strikes me most about the book is how different it is to the Anne and Emily books. The Anne books are all sweetness and light and even the Emily books, which most agree are a lot darker, don’t get as dark as Jane’s grandmother. People? Jane’s grandmother? She’s crazy, yo. I thought Aunt Elizabeth at New Moon was cold and repressive, but Jane’s grandmother is psychologically manipulative, morbid, unnaturally possessive and evil.
Which brings me to the other problem in the book —- all the grown ups are either very evil or very sweet here. It’s a very black and white world where Toronto adults = evil and Lantern Hill adults = good. Luckily, the black-and-whiteness of the other characters is tempered by Jane, who is saved from being a saccharine, put-upon child heroine by her deep common sense and her endearing love of kitchens and cooking.
In fact, I don’t really like any of the adults in this book, to tell the truth. I spent the entire book wanting to slap Jane’s mother very hard across her soft, pretty face. It’s inexcusable to allow your daughter to be emotionally abused in that way and doubly inexcusable when the only excuse you have is weakness of character. Jane’s mother is silly, weak, stupid, easily manipulated and utterly undeserving of her lovable daughter or said lovable daughter’s adoration. Even Jane’s father, awesome though he may be, irritated me a little after awhile. Can’t he see that his sister’s a bitch?
Having said that, what I loved about the book was how funny it was when it got going. I mean, Anne is amusing at times, especially when Davy comes on the scene in Anne of Avonlea, but Jane is laugh-out-loud funny. And reading Jane reminded me of how much I really love LM Montgomery’s writing and the world she portrays in her books, an utterly safe, old-fashioned, cozy world where houses are bought with cash and ten-year-olds keep house for their father and regularly make roast chicken.
Yes, her prose tends to the purple but who cares? Sometimes I like my prose to be purple. Sometimes what my soul craves after so many books of sparse, painfully curated sentences in prize-winning short stories (I’m looking at you, O. Henry Prize Short Stories 2012) is elaborate descriptions of what the sky looks like above the tops of pine trees or the view of the sea from Lantern Hill. When you live in a city as dusty and ugly as Beijing, it is very pleasant to read about winds that blow over clover fields and great white cloud mountains.
I think I’m going to continue my lunchtime LM Montgomery reading. Next up shall be Pat of Silver Bush.
PS: Totally off-topic, but LM Montgomery’s book titles make me wish I was an ‘of’. Jane of Lantern Hill. Emily of New Moon. Anne of Avonlea. Why can’t I be a ‘Pretty Name of Romantic Place’? Instead I’m from Kuala Lumpur, which literally means ‘estuary full of mud’. Wtf. And I was born in a small town named after a poisonous tree. Double wtf. So much for New Moons and Lantern Hills.
PS2: Lantern Hill is just about the most romantic place name I’ve ever come across.
PS3: Has anyone else noticed that LM Montgomery seems to have a thing for eyes? All her heroines seem to have unusually shining or oversized eyes that are always deep pools of mysterious purple or whatever. I think I read somewhere that Pat of Silver Bush has yellow eyes. Yellow. That’s not poetic people, that’s jaundice.
The road was full of lovely surprises … a glimpse of far-off hills that seemed made of opal dust … a whiff of wind that had been blowing over a clover field … brooks that appeared from nowhere and ran off into green shadowy woods where long branches of spicy fir hung over the laced water … great white cloud mountains towering up in the blue sky … a hollow of tipsy buttercups … a tidal river unbelievably blue. Everywhere she looked there was something to delight her. Everything seemed just on the point of whispering a secret of happiness.