Recently I met a friend for coffee and almost before I sat down we had embarked on a discussion about LM Montgomery’s Anne books. We both remember them fondly from childhood and I certainly have re-read them periodically as an adult. I enjoy them all but my favourite is Anne of the Island – for lots of reasons I might go into at a later date!
What my friend and I didn’t discuss was the new prequel, written to mark the centenary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables. I read Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson a few weeks ago and have very mixed feelings about it.
As a story in its own right, it’s quite enjoyable and I think the author has made good use of all the clues that LM Montgomery’s books give about Anne’s early life. But – and this is a major issue for me – the tone of the novel is all wrong. I understand that Budge Wilson is not LM Montgomery and so has a different style of writing. But the novel is too modern. It doesn’t feel like it’s set in the late nineteenth century and, worst of all for me, Bertha and Walter Shirley weren’t characters I cared about. I know: the book’s about Anne and how she develops into the girl who meets Matthew Cuthbert at Bright River. To a great extent, though, Budge Wilson was stuck with the Anne of LM Montgomery’s making. With Bertha and Walter, she had the opportunity of creating characters almost from scratch. And they’re important characters, even though they have such a small part, because they are important to the Anne we meet on Prince Edward Island.
Before Green Gables isn’t a bad book; it’s disappointing. For me. I’d really like to know what other people think.