Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Few authors have tried to write prequels or sequels to the eight book Anne of Green Gables series. (Poor Jane Austen, in comparison...) There is an Anne prequel of Anne Shirley's life before coming to PEI, titled Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson, which had a fairly good reception. And now, going back further still, Sarah McCoy has built the hints of Marilla Cuthbert's life before Anne out into a novel.
Marilla of Green Gables presents much of the Cuthbert backstory, from Matthew's diffidence to Marilla's famed red currant wine to how Marilla acquired her precious amethyst brooch. We even get an insight into her later desire for plain, less fashionable dress due to a painful association of stylishness with loss. McCoy has successfully captured the tone of LM Montgomery's writing but I suppose given Marilla's often dour nature expressed in the early Anne books, she didn't have as much charm to load into a character as LMM had with Anne. Some nice passages relate Marilla's close relationship with her mother, Clara Johnson Cuthbert, and her nascent friendship with the ebullient Rachel White Lynde. While there are several subplots with her Aunt Izzy (who stays in Avonlea with the Cuthberts for the first third of the book) and the Canadian Underground railroad, of course, what many an Anne lover will be here for is to see just what happened between Marilla and Gilbert Blythe's father, John Blythe. It's an interesting take that McCoy has and following the trend of recent interpretations of the Anne series in light of feminism, Marilla herself is in some ways portrayed as something of a feminist in that she won't settle and make nice when she disagrees with a man. In McCoy's story Marilla remains on PEI after her mother's death, eschewing opportunities to live in Nova Scotia with her much loved aunt who was her mother's identical twin. She stays with her father Hugh and Matthew based partly on a sense of duty but also because she loves her home. John Blythe is portrayed by turns as charming and high-handed if not arrogant. Growing up in a small town on an island, Marilla has few options for beaus and John Blythe, as intelligent as his son will be, is the cream of the crop. He's drawn to Marilla but clearly puzzled by her. Marilla is portrayed as loyal to family, country and with an innate sense of boundaries and dignity. She won't be bullied into something she doesn't believe in and that, in a nutshell, makes for some heartbreak.
This was an enjoyable read for lovers of Anne of Green Gables. It does a good job of setting up the backstory of Marilla's lonely heart, ripe for loving an irrepressible child like Anne Shirley.
I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from William Morrow via Edelweiss and a paper review courtesy copy, in exchange for an honest review.
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