Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

As I mentioned previously in my post about the Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge, I've only ever read her Emily series, half of the Anne series, and Kilmeny of the Orchard. Why I haven't read more is beyond me. I have truly missed some great reads!

I chose The Blue Castle as my next Montgomery read as part of the Reading Challenge for two reasons: first, it is a favorite of my friend Carrie at Reading to Know (who's hosting the reading challenge), so much so she named her photography business after it. And second, because I was given a copy when my friend Alison was cleaning out the duplicates from her personal library. So The Blue Castle came with high recommendations and was easily accessible, both signs that I had to read it soon... Unfortunately I managed to misplace it for a week and a half, so my reading was delayed, but once I got started I almost couldn't put it down!

The Blue Castle begins... "If it had not rained on a certain May morning Valancy Stirling's whole life would have been entirely different. She would have gone, with the rest of her clan, to Aunt Wellington's engagement picnic and Dr. Trent would have gone to Montreal. But it did rain and you shall hear what happened to her because of it..."

That is a fantastic opening to a book! So much intrigue, it just pulls the reader in begging to know more of Valancy and her adventures. In summary and without any spoilers, the story of The Blue Castle is the story of a 29 year-old "spinster" Valancy Stirling who has spent her entire life living under the thumb of her overbearing mother and meddlesome and judgmental relatives. It is only when she discoverers a shocking truth about herself that Valancy takes matters into her own hands (i.e. rebels) and breaks free to create a new and fresh life for herself. A life that is filled with adventure, beauty, friendship, and even love.

I loved, loved, LOVED this story. The Blue Castle is set in the 1920s in a rural part of northern Ontario, Canada (the only novel written by Montgomery to be set entirely off Prince Edward Island). This is not Anne of Green Gables, but that's fine, I didn't expect nor did I want it to be. The Blue Castle is a quirky, witty, down to earth, but romantic story. Montgomery's writing is still beautiful and refreshing to read. Throughout the novel she paints vivid pictures of nature and the characters that allows the reader to not only see it in their own imagination, but almost feel as if they have been there and it is a personal memory.

As far as the characters, Valancy may not have Anne Shirley's temper, but she does have a clever dry wit and sarcasm that gives her character a delightful spark. Her family once referred by Valancy as being part of a "snobocracy" are quirky, meddlesome, obnoxious, and somewhat ridiculous, but still a key element to the story. The hero of the story has much more detail and personalization to his character than some of the heroes in Montgomery's other books. He is easily the perfect match for Valancy.

Woven into the romance of Valancy's dreams and new life Montgomery included a few subtle lessons, social commentary if you will. Lessons in friendship, charity, generosity, and true Christian brotherly love for a neighbor. Not all the characters in the book learn these lessons, but those who do are forever changed. At the beginning of the novel Valancy's life is dreary and depressing, but that changes, she changes. Some readers may consider the ending "contrived", but I thought it very L.M. Montgomery-ish and the end was justified by the twists and turns of the plot. It wasn't exactly how I expected it to end, but I closed the book with a smile on my face. It is a very satisfying read.

My only objections would be that the introduction to the story did seem to drag on several pages longer than it should have, but the richness for the story makes up this and it is really just a minor fault if it could even be called a fault. Also, (and not at all Montgomery's fault) I disliked the artwork on the cover of my paperback. As is the case with several of the recent printings, the book cover artwork a picture of Valancy with a man, but neither look remotely like their characters in the book, or even like people looked in the 1920s. Between the cover and the fact my brain was stuck in Anne of Green Gables mode I had some difficulty picturing Valancy in the right time period. Again, this isn't Montgomery's fault, more a fault of my own imagination added to by the poor choice in artwork by the publisher and illustrator.

The Blue Castle was L.M. Montgomery's first attempt at writing an adult novel. In my opinion she succeeded, although it has never had the success of her novels intended for younger readers. Montgomery was able to tell a story that entertained, but also addressed adult themes (i.e. alcoholism, illegitimacy, female independence, romance, etc.) in a tasteful and appropriate way. She dealt with them realistically, but didn't gloss over or romanticize the issues, nor did she delve into gritty details or graphic scenes. My friend Alison remarked to me the other day how much she appreciate a love scene penned by Montgomery. It is more romantic in its simplicity than any detailed love scene from a modern novel could ever hope to be. All this to say, while this was intended for adults, it could be appropriate for younger readers (teenagers).

On a scale of one to five, one being horrible and five being excellent I would rate The Blue Castle a five. I loved this book, it was a breath of fresh air after my most recent read. For those interested this is definitely a book to be added to a personal library, but if you aren't able to buy, be sure to borrow a copy from your local library.


Note: Be warned the article about The Blue Castle on Wikipedia contains the entire story plot from start to finish. A reader should not view this article unless they are planning to cheat and spoil the fun of reading this great story.


Carrie said...

YAY! I'm so glad you loved it! I think this book is one of her more incredible works. It's so different and yet the message it contains is uplifting and inspiring. Great literature.

Kelly said...

Ooh - I need to read this one! It is actually time for me to find a library!

Anonymous said...

Now I need to find my copy and re-read it. It has been a great, logn while.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm going to order that book next! Can't believe I've missed out on this L. L. Montgomery book all these years! My library doesn't have it. :(

Noel De Vries said...

Five, indeed. :)

Noel De Vries said...

Well, it isn't the first edition , but it's a heap better than the mass market:

Marie DeVries said...

I have heard a great deal about The Blue Castle because of the LM Montgomery challenge... I have decided to add it to my pile...