It’s no secret that I love LM Montgomery. As a kid, I devoured all of the Anne of Green Gables books, plus Emily of New Moon, The Story Girl and even some of the lesser-known ones that you have to dig through the library to find because they don’t sell them in bookstores anymore (Jane of Lantern Hill, Pat of Silver Bush, Magic for Marigold). As an adult, I return time and time again to the Anne books as a source of comfort and inspiration – you might remember that I recently wrote an essay on the feminist/cultural impact of Rilla of Ingleside for my course in 20th century Canadian history.
Imagine my delight to discover that there was a ninth and final Anne book, delivered to Montgomery’s publisher on the very day she died. The story behind The Blythes Are Quoted would be intriguing even if I wasn’t an Anne fan. And because I am, and the Okotoks public library happened to have a copy in stock, I was doubly delighted.
Delighted that is, until I started reading. Part of The Blythes Are Quoted overlaps with the pre-WWI time period Rilla of Ingleside and Rainbow Valley take place in (for the record, I thought Rainbow Valley was thoroughly meh, even as a kid). The other half of the book picks up in post-WWI Glen St Mary. It’s a collection of 15 short stories that take place in and around the town that the Blythes call home – and indeed, Anne, Gilbert and all the other major players in the Anne books take a backseat here. However, they resurface in small snippets of dialogue in between chapters, where Anne and Gilbert (and from time to time, other members of the family at Ingleside – like eldest son Jem) gather together to discuss poems written by Walter, Anne’s second son, who died fighing in Europe.
Some of the other, later Anne books (especially Anne of Ingleside and Rainbow Valley) experiment with short storytelling and narrative in this way, but there’s always a cohesive thread that ties them altogether. This thread isn’t really evident in The Blythes Are Quoted. In fact, it’s a really weird little book that feels a bit like a patchwork. A random story, some dialogue, a John McCrae-style poem, another random story, etc. It doesn’t feel like an Anne book at all, and with darker subject matter (death, infidelity) than its companions, it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the series. Perhaps Montgomery was playing around with new forms of storytelling. We certainly know she had to deal with some rather heavy mental issues later in life. Or maybe her editors always wielded a heavy hand to turn the rest of the Anne books into the more sanitized, family-friendly novels that Montgomery is best known for.
Either way, I was bitterly disappointed in this book. I had expected a warm reunion with old friends, but what I got was a vaguely unsettling feeling that Anne didn’t end up being as happy in the end as she deserved to be. I wish I had stopped at Rilla of Ingleside – and I’m glad this was a library find. I don’t think I’ll be adding it to my treasured collection of Anne books anytime soon.