Whenever I am sick or tired, I turn back to the books I read when I was a girl. And since I have been both sick and tired lately, I turned back to L.M. Montgomery. I fell in love with Anne of Green Gables first, reading it when I was in sixth grade.
After I exhausted the Anne series, right down to Rilla of Ingleside, I devoured the Emily books, the Pat books, and all the ephemera that has ever been published from the Montgomery oeuvre.
The most recent book I read was A Tangled Web, which I discovered only a few years ago. Along with The Blue Castle, Web has the distinction of being one of the only adult novels Montgomery wrote. The language is a bit more colorful, and the final page features a rare appearance of the N-word, which is rather shocking. But like all Montgomery books, it is set in Canada and focuses on the lives of rural Canadian farm families—or “clans,” as she calls them. This time, the book centers on the Darks and the Penhallows, two families who have been intermarrying and feuding for years. It’s one of my favorite books, bar none, and I turned back to it this week for comfort.
The plot of the story is simple: Aunt Becky Dark, the clan matriarch, is dying,
and she has a family heirloom that everybody wants when she kicks the bucket.
She holds a “levee,” which is the equivalent of Cold Comfort Farm‘s “counting,” in which she airs all the family gossip and dark secrets. She issues an ultimatum: every one must get his or her life in order to be eligible for possession of the Dark jug after she dies. The book then follows the various members of the Darks and Penhallows
over the course of a year as their lives change for the better.
I love these multigenerational stories, and I love that the characters aren’t terribly likable when you first meet them. Self-centered, selfish, and petty—Montgomery gives us the gift of hating them at first, or at least being terribly annoyed by them. Then, in time, we come to love them as they deepen and transform into better people.
I think my favorite storyline centers around Hugh Dark and Jocelyn Penhallow, who are separated on their wedding night and live for ten years both despising and adoring one another from afar. The resolution of their love story is, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying in all of Montgomery’s fiction—and yes, I am including Anne and Gilbert in that assessment. I wish she had devoted an entire book to their characters.
So, what about you? What books do you turn to when you feel sick or tired or both?