Archive for March 9th, 2009


The Red-winged Blackbirds, that is. The first one was spotted on Saturday, and this evening a chorus of blackbirds were oak-a-lee-ing from the top of the tree behind the house.

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Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson. Penguin Canada, 2008.
The Courtship by Budge Wilson. House of Anansi, 1994.

The year 2008 marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables. In celebration of the anniversary, Penguin Canada published a prequel, written by Budge Wilson. Many ardent Anne fans must approach the new book with some trepidation. Can it possibly live up to expectations?

Before Green Gables starts at the beginning, with Anne’s loving parents, and ends with Anne arriving at the train station in Prince Edward Island with Mrs. Spencer. In between, Anne’s difficult early days are laid out in short, tempting chapters that keep the reader engaged. I found some details, such as the 5 year old Anne counseling alcoholic Mr. Thomas on the use of imagination and preparing a meal for 7 too much of a stretch for my imagination. Overall, however, Wilson does a good job of connecting details of young Anne’s life with the future Anne. Eliza, an early caretaker, has bosom friends. Mrs. Henderson, a favorite teacher, wears dresses with puffed sleeves. Mr. Johnson, the egg man, promotes Anne’s love of words and offers her the expression “depths of despair”, and another teacher, Mr. McDougall, introduces Anne to the beauty of Prince Edward Island, his home province. Anne uses her imagination to escape the grim circumstances of her life as she struggles with a brutal household headed by a sometimes-violent alcoholic, and later, the depressed Mrs. Hammond and her 3 sets of twins, inventing Katie Maurice (her reflection) and Violetta (her echo) as her friends. It is something of a relief, upon reaching the end of the book, to know that Matthew will soon be there, taking Anne home. Wilson has created a satisfying story of Anne’s early life.

The Courtship, a book of short stories, was runner-up for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize in 1995. This slim volume offers 9 stories, told in Wilson’s straight-forward unembroidered style. Their strength lies in Wilson’s honesty, her ability to capture a moment of human truth.

In the title story, seventy-seven year old Mrs. Knickle, a widow of 10 years, weighs the freedom of living on her own against the comfort of a shared life as she sets out to court her neighbour, Mr. VanBuskirk. My favorite story was “The House on High Street”, in which a middle-aged mother remembers a day from her youth, a day when, visiting elderly relatives, she accidentally stumbled upon a family secret of star-crossed love. I least enjoyed the disturbing “The Dress”, in which two mothers wittingly devastate a fragile child and her overwhelmed mother. I’d like to think such things don’t happen, but don’t doubt that they do.

Budge Wilson is the author of more than 30 books. Follow this link to learn more about Wilson.

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