Man cannot live by sci-fi alone, and from time to time, I also like to explore novels from other genres than my usual. In my opinion, mature readers shouldn’t limit themselves to reading only one type of stories, but remain open to trying many different kinds of literature. Ground Level is a category of the blog dedicated to a more “down-to-earth” topics. To escape reality, I don’t always need to put on a spacesuit and fire up my rocket for launch. Welcome and please enjoy the review! 😊
Anne of Green Gables is a classic of children’s literature, telling the adventures of a young girl with a wild imagination that becomes adopted by the Cuthbert siblings. I feel a great sentiment for this book, so I couldn’t resist reaching for Marilla of Green Gables. It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but how does the book of a modern author compare to the original story?
Sarah McCoy’s task was difficult but achievable. Undoubtedly, her best work went into recreating the climate of the original. Her lush, imaginative descriptions send the reader into the home-grown atmosphere of Avonlea and show its nature’s beauty without fail. I especially enjoyed the attention to detail that was put into the descriptions of the everyday life, while at the same time making sure that they never overstayed their welcome.
Unfortunately, I can’t give the same praise to the characters. Marilla and Matthew resemble their original versions, however it’s noticeable that the author had her own ideas about them which weren’t always in accord with the intentions of their creator. This gave me an impression that after everything McCoy made them go through they were shaped into slightly different people than those known from the pages of Anne. Developing these characters in such a way that we could see how they became who they were in the original book was the whole raison d’être of this novel. The prequel doesn’t mesh with the original it’s based on as well as it should. Furthermore, there were jarring inconsistencies in characterizations, especially in the beginning of the book. For example, if the author first wrote that a character isn’t talkative and on the next page gave that character a longer piece of dialogue than strictly necessary, it proves a clear lack in either her cause-effect thinking or the revision process. Next flaw that bothered me during reading was how flatly the characters and their dynamics were written. I was very disappointed by the lack of sufficient nuance and depth to the presented relationships, especially since this is a novel of manners, supposed to focus on characters’ psychology.
The relationship between Marilla and John Blythe, only mentioned in passing in Anne, is central to the plot of Marilla. Sarah McCoy revealed that it was her starting point for writing this book. Her take on their unfulfilled romance is interesting, however the ending explaining why Marilla remained an old maid let me down. In my opinion, this most important question needed an appropriately satisfying answer. Instead, the ending seemed too quick and abrupt.
As I already mentioned, the book puts a lot of weight to the historical realism, and as a result Marilla’s life story intertwines with events from the history of Canada and the North America. Most prominent were the unification of Canada and the politics between Canada and the Great Britain, as well as the abolitionist movement, helping slaves that escaped from the southern States. These plots worked the best when the author wasn’t trying to give her readers a history lesson and simply showed us characters affected by those events. Including the political matters to such extent in the book introduced a sense of worldliness to the village climate of Avonlea, however it’s hard for me to imagine Marilla as a social activist McCoy would prefer to turn her into. In addition to this, the greatest sin of this book is the anachronistic mentality of the characters. Their opinions on topics such as gender equality or religion are technically accurate, however they are presented in such a manner that instantly reveals the authors’ modern worldview. You can tell right away that this book wasn’t written in the times it’s talking about, which for me is a huge flaw as it breaks the reader’s immersion in the fictional world.
Generally speaking, Marilla of Green Gables is a fanfiction, carrying all the baggage of this literary form. The author’s obvious enthusiasm for the world of Avonlea works to the advantage for the book, however her writing skill still leaves much to be desired. The flat characterizations and mediocre relationship development repelled me. Despite that, the novel also had its good or even great moments and it was written in a very accessible way. It’s a fairly fast read that you can spend a pleasant time with, if you’re not too sensitive to the shortcomings I listed above. I wouldn’t say it’s a required reading for fans of Anne of Green Gables but it’s still worth of checking out, even out of a simple curiosity or a desire to visit the good, old Avonlea once again.