Friday, July 10, 2009

Chronicles of Avonlea, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I must confess right off the bat to immensely enjoying this slim collection of stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables. The stories are set in the fictional village of Avonlea, where so much of the action in the Anne novels takes place. One presumes this was a selling point for the publishers (and Montgomery herself). The references to Anne Shirley, however, are few and far between.

Basically, all the stories here work independently and don't need the Avonlea of the title for readers to make any sense of them. If I was to name this collection, I'd give it a more prosaic title, like twelve tales of village life, or something like. (I prefer bland titles!)

So okay, why did I enjoy so much these rural tales of romance , sentimentality, friendship and family? When I opened the book, I presumed the stories would be leaning more towards the slight, as fancies that Montgomery had indulged in to while away a few hours. Yet I was hooked on them from the first page. As I read I tried to figure out why I was enjoying these simple stories of village life.

The reason is pretty obvious. Pardon my language, gentle readers, but Montgomery is a damned fine writer.

I have a theory about writers. At one end there are the organic writers, whose words seem to grow like something original in nature. Shakespeare is a perfect example of this. His language is a law unto itself. Then there are the more polished, urbane writers, whose work is like sophisticated architecture. Think Alexander Pope, or Jane Austen. Lucy Maud Montgomery I think leans towards the organic end of the scale. Her style is naturalistic, that of the born writer: simple, clear and uncluttered. Mixed with this are her beautiful descriptive passages. She draws you into a world she clearly loves and cherishes, so as a reader, you too long to be in her world.

Then there are her characters. There's a psychological truth to the people and situations she writes about. Montgomery is very much interested in the human. People do wrong and make petty mistakes in their lives, but these situations are in the end resolved. And isn't that what we really want in fiction, a moral? Reading these stories made me realise that, indeed, I do like a story to have a moral.

This is a really enjoyable collection of stories that you don't want to miss!

You can access Chronicles of Avonlea online here.

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