This book is definitely one of Montgomery's finest, in my opinion. It's nothing majestic or different or astonishingly exciting. It many ways it could almost be labeled cliche or predictable, but I just couldn't say that about this book. Anything you would label as such is covered over by all that's fresh, bright, witty, and unique.
First off, we have our heroine, with her utterly unique name, Valancy. Oh, what a lovely heroine. I wouldn't say I particularly relate to her, but I understood her. I ached for her when the book opens to describe her awful existence. For the most part, I could sympathize with her door-mat personality (although I did have a few moments of thinking "WHY do you put up with this?!!") and I wanted to hug her and be her friend and encourage her and help bring sunshine into her life. And I would definitely have encouraged her to leave her family and strike out on her own. Family or not, they're horrid. And Valancy is 29 years old! She has every right to find her own "place" in the world.
(Oh, and I find it really refreshing to have a heroine who is NOT a teenager or in her early twenties. I do love heroines like that, but older, more mature ones are scarce and this should not be so. How many people have all their excitement in life happen when they're just past childhood?)
(Yes, I know I'm comparing real life with fiction, but hush. My point still stands. Look at Corrie Ten Boom!) (Although, her "excitement" wasn't exactly...exciting. But I digress.)
(Oh, and you should all read The Hiding Place. One of the most inspiring books I've ever read.)
(I promise, I'm getting back to the review now.)
Barney. Barney. Baaarrrneeey. Okay, other than your rather horrid name (it conjures images of a purple dinosaur and a rather inept policeman) you are wonderful. I wouldn't put you on my list of favorite heroes (well, maybe I would) but I did really love you and what you did for Valancy and when you saved her from the train and when you finally told her you loved her and....yeah.
*spoilers* And oh, wasn't the proposal adorable? I just loved its unorthodox-ness and the matter-of-fact attitude in which all is arranged. And then, later on, we finally get his declaration of love and...ohhh. SO sweet. Let me just include this part:
"Love you! Girl, you're in the very core of my heart. I hold you there like a jewel. Didn't I promise you I'd never tell you a lie? Love you! I love you with all there is of me to love. Heart, soul, brain. Every fibre of body and spirit thrilling to the sweetness of you. There's nobody in the world for me but you, Valancy.”
If that's not one of the most romantic declarations ever, then I don't know what is.
(Why do I keep mentioning the tour of Newsies? I'm just making myself upset.....)
(It's 5 hours away from me right now and I want to see it sooooo bad! -sniff-)
Going into this, I knew very little about the plot, but enough to keep me waiting for Barney's appearance. And, I honestly don't know how I figured this out, but the moment the librarian told Valancy about her favorite author being "anonymous" and "no one knows where he lives", I knew it was Barney. For awhile I thought I must have read it somewhere and forgot, but then my mom read the book (right after finishing it I thrust it upon her. "HERE. You must read this book!!") and she guessed that early on, too. Both of us were surprised when he turned out to be Dr. Redfern's son, though! Oh, and I was pleasantly surprised to find Barney wasn't previously married. I figured he had some sort of Romantic Past, and though widowers finding a second love works really well in some stories, I just didn't see that for this one.
So, for those of you who don't know the story, Valancy lives a monotonous, stifled life with her mother. She has a large family, and none of them understand her or treat her very kindly. She's an old maid, with nothing to look forward to in life. And then, she gets some news from her doctor that flips everything she thought about her life upside down. She finally decides to stand up to her family, and strike out on her own. She agrees to become the housekeeper of Roaring Abel, the notorious town drunk, and be a companion for his dying daughter, Cissy. It just so happens that Barney Snaith, the man everyone in town thinks to be a murderer, extortionist, gambler, and anything else that is remotely bad, happens to be friends with Roaring Abel and so he and Valancy meet often. She has never believed the stories they told about him-or at least one in particular-and they become friends. Meanwhile, her family looks on in horror. They're certain that timid, mouse-like little Valancy has gone mad.
There's so much humor and romance scattered throughout the story. The dance at Chidley Corners started out exciting, but eventually progressed to a sweet scene because of broken down car--and then a hilarious encounter with two of Valancy's relatives.
That's another thing I love about this book. Goodness, it was so FUNNY sometimes! I smiled and laughed quite often at Valancy's various mental (and spoken) observations about her family and all sorts of things. L. M. Montgomery's narration is also quite delightful and witty.
And then we have the descriptions. Goodness, I forget what talent Montgomery has at description. (Okay, I don't actually forget, but I take it for granted till I read her work again.) I confess at times I would start to skim her delicious imagery to get back to the characters (more dialogue, please!), but I then I would stop and try to make myself read it slowly because it's just so darn beautiful.
And let me talk for a moment about Barney's house because CAN I PLEASE LIVE THERE? His cabin is just...perfect. While reading this, I found myself dreaming about owning a secluded wooden home on an island, cozy and comfortable, resting quietly in the middle of a placid, sapphire blue lake. Reading the seasons pass on the island was so restful for me. The chilly, sharp autumns blazen with color, winters spent in front of a roaring fire after trekking through the diamond, snow-laden woods, springs and summers spent outdoors, exploring everything green and blooming and beautiful--I just loved it so much.
Basically, this book was the perfect summer read. It was light and quick, but still chock full of beautiful words and a story that is now one of my very favorites. I can't wait to re-read this and write down all my favorite passages.
I would recommend this book wholeheartedly. It had a few (mild) swear words, and talk of a girl who had a child out of wedlock, but nothing is explicit or detailed. It's a lovely, magical story about a woman, her dream of a blue castle, and her subsequent discovery of it.
Well done, L. M. Montgomery. If I wasn't already a fan, I would be now.