47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
When I first heard about the upcoming prequel to Anne of Green Gables I was nervous about it. It wasn't too far off the mark for me to worry that the new book would not compare to Anne of Green Gables - which is a very beloved novel of mine. However, I was mightily surprised when I read Before Green Gables as it was miraculously able to capture a lot (not all mind you) of Anne's essence that I was originally certain would be missing from this tale. For the die-hards this may still fall a little flat for them as it is missing a lot of LMM's descriptions and humor but it is still a lovely read. I think most fans of the series will enjoy having a new story to take them back to a simpler time with Anne - even if for Anne it was some of her hardest years. I really liked having some answers to where Anne came from, how she was brought up and what her parents were really like.
52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2008
Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson
I have to admit, this is a book I secretly half-longed for and publicly dreaded (in book club, that is). Let's face it, L.M. Montgomery and Anne Shirley are icons. As much as I wanted to know what happened to Anne before she showed up at the Bright River station, if Montgomery couldn't do it, I was content just to let my imagination do the work. Unfortunately, not everyone felt that way, hence the new book, a prequel to Anne of Green Gables. Don't get me wrong, the book's not all bad, but to accurately assess it, we'll have to take it in two parts.
First of all, the story itself. We first meet Walter and Bertha Shirley, newly weds- poor but happy. They ooze contentment. Soon Anne arrives and the contentment deepens. Her mother adores and pets her, but never regains her strength from the birth. Fever sweeps through the village and it isn't long before Anne is an orphan. She moves to the Thomas household where we hope she'll at least feel some love for the sake of her dead mother, whom Mrs. Thomas worked for and adored. We soon learn that this is too much to hope for and before her fifth birthday, Anne is pressed into service. This is the single longest sojourn of Anne's life and it quickly becomes tedious. There are those who provide Anne with little rays of sunshine, but for the most part, her life is one of drudgery and exhaustion. And it goes on for 200 pages.
After Mr. Thomas' untimely demise, Anne is sent to live with the Hammond family. Anne's hopes are again dashed when she learns that she is not to be anything more than a hired hand. We also see Mrs. Hammond's postnatal depression and how her whole family is sucked into it. Again, there are those who provide Anne with some solace, but the drudgery and misery seem to be black holes that absorb it all.
At Mr. Hammond's death, Anne's greatest fears come true and she arrives at the Hopetown Orphanage. This is the most miserable of all her 'homes' and Anne is stripped several of her pitifully few possessions. Think shades of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Hope glimmers when Anne is chosen to go to Prince Edward Island and live with the Cuthberts and we leave her on the station platform waiting for the future.
In and of itself, the story is mostly consistent with what we know about Anne from Montgomery's telling. However, the story falls flat from Montgomery's hints of a neglected childhood. Certainly Anne is neglected, but it is not the total abandon that Montgomery hints is her background. Anne tells Marilla that no one ever did want her, but Wilson tells us that she was wanted- a few times. There are also inconsistencies in Anne's character and Wilson expects us to believe that Anne was using words like "exquisite" at the age of six. While I know Anne was an extraordinary child, even I cannot stretch my imagination that far.
Second, there is the writing style. Wilson's writing style is to the point. It falls far short from Montgomery's lilting style and the poetry of Anne is totally lost in Wilson's bluntness. There are also topics discussed that Montgomery wouldn't have touched with a ten foot pole. Anne doesn't sound like Anne and the descriptions fall so far short of Montgomery's that it's almost laughable.
Of course, Wilson is not a Montgomery scholar. That much is apparent in her acknowledgments when she thanks a scholar for providing her with references for Montgomery's hints of Anne's history. So she should not be blamed for not knowing Montgomery's style. But if Anne's history required a prequel, would it not have been better to choose a scholar who could put this together for us? Someone who could adopt Montgomery's style or at least some semblance of it?
While the story is a good story and would have been brilliant if it were written for another character, as Anne's story, it doesn't fit. It truly is unfortunate for those of us who love Anne and Montgomery.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2008
Since I am an octogenarian and male, every one wonders how in the world I ever got myself mixed up with this Anne business anyway. I got myself into this Anne business purely by accident. I have considered myself fairly well read in the male type authors such as Michael Crichen, Tom Clancy, Mark Twain, Jack London, etc.,etc.,
I just happened to see a movie of Anne of Green Gables. That set me off into an entirely different direction. After going through all of the eight books of the Anne series in just a few weeks (Including a couple of other L.M. Montgomery books,) I just happened on the preguel, 'Before Green Gables' by Budge Wilson.
Since no one but the original author can ever write a book exactually how it's supposed to be written, I think that Budge Wilson did a most outstanding and wonderful job with all of the research that she had done to write the book that comes very close on how Montgomery might just have written it.
Of course, she put in great detail on how Anne's parents died when she was just months old. Then taken in by the neighbors to be first raised and then be used as a virtual slave by the mother of the very disfunctional family where no love just discord is shown - all of her trials and tribulations - a lost childhood in a very disfunctional family where Anne was treated with no love - where she had to creat her own little world using all of her imagination in order to just keep herself sane. Then she is transfered over to another family almost as bad.
Finally her trip to the orphanage where Mrs. Spencer finally finds her and her whole world finally opens up to love and being a little girl again.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2008
I've read pretty much anything I can get my hands on by LM Montgomery, and so I was intrigued by the idea of this prequel. It's not as good as Anne of Green Gables and all that followed, but the idea is interesting, and it feels fairly well executed.
Most of Anne's early existence was bleak, save a few bright spots where she meets "kindred spirits". What rang a little untrue to me, though, is that these people must have had a profound influence, but you never hear of them again in any of Montgomery's works. Admittedly, that's a risk the author has to take, but it's the one thing that bothered me about the prequel.
A good read, and a nice treat for Anne devotees, but read the original works first, and save this for later.
23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
I thought the author did a good job of imitating Anne's voice, tastes and character. It reminded me of Syrie James' book, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, in that regard -- it didn't sound exactly like the original author, but close enough that you didn't mind.
The only thing that bothered me about the book was that it was DEPRESSING. Not consistently so, but by page 350 I was thinking, "Please, let something good happen. Please." One of my favorite things about the series was that it was so positive, and any setbacks that did occur were mild -- Marilla giving Anne plain dresses, etc. At first, Before Green Gables had that cozy, escapist feeling, too; but after a while, to borrow Anne's words, it was "mired in the depths of despair."
Fortunately, it had a happy ending. I don't think I'm giving anything away (but stop reading if you're worried) when I say that it ends with her heading toward Green Gables. I mean, the book is called Before Green Gables, and everyone knows what happens next. I thought the ending was really well-done, getting into Anne's head and showing how she was leaving all her past experiences, good and bad, "on the other side of the Northumberland Strait."
This would explain why the characters in this book aren't really referenced in Anne's subsequent life -- an omission that bothered some reviewers. It made sense to me, and helped explain how Anne got over her early tragedies.
In summary, I would say if you're worried about inconsistent tone or bad writing, there's no cause for concern. But if it would really bother you to see Anne undergoing some fairly extreme hardship (albeit with a happy ending), that might be an issue. I don't regret reading it, but I think some of the events could have been softened a little.
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2008
I love the whole Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. (Lucy Maude) Montgomery. I have read them all so many times I practically have them memorized, so I was very interested in exploring Anne's earlier life. I was immensely disappointed.
One thing I love about the original books is the innocence of the writing. Anne of Green Gables was originally published in 1908. Now they are historical fiction, but were written as contemporary fiction.
It is obvious that this book was written by a 21st century mind, trying (not very successfully, at times) to go back in time. I am not an expert on late 19th century Canadian life, other than my countless readings of the original Anne books, but there were some things I knew would never have happened the way they are described in this book.
For example, Bertha Shirley (Anne's mother) mentioned to an acquaintance that she feared she may have consumption, the disease that killed her mother. The other woman asks Bertha when she had her last "you know what". I do not see this happening, it would have been considered too indelicate to discuss with even close friends.
At another point Walter Shirley, hoping that infant Anne would be spared the devastating fever that was sweeping through the town, remembered that "he had heard that breast-feeding infants gave them an immunity from disease". I actually screamed "whatever!" at the book when I read this sentence. For one thing, the study of immunology was basically non-existent at the time. Pasteur didn't do the bulk of his work on immunology until the 1870's. The only actual date in any of the Anne books is in Rilla of Ingleside World War I begins, this was in 1814. Anne arrived in Avonlea when she was eleven. If you do that math that makes her 49 at the beginning of the war. Do the math again and figure out that Anne was born in 1865. So there is no way that Walter could have heard this! Not to mention that "breast-feeding" was also not a topic that would be discussed in polite company. Even Gilbert Blythe never mentioned breast-feeding and he was a doctor!
At times it felt like Mrs. Wilson had never even read the original Anne of Green Gables books! To suggest that Anne prefers the sea or anything to trees is a serious misrepresentation of Anne's personality. In "Anne's House of Dreams" after Gilbert tells Anne that he has rented a house right on the shore she scarcely even notices, instead questions him more about the house itself. Then she says, and this is a direct quote: "But Gilbert... You haven't yet mentioned one very important thing. Are there trees about this house?" Gilbert replies "Heaps of them, oh, dryad!" Then he describes in detail the trees around the house. She tells him: "Oh, I'm so glad! I couldn't live where there were no trees--something vital in me would starve." These are NOT the words of a girl that resented living in a forested area and longed, instead, for the sea.
There is also no indication in any of Montgomery's books that Anne had previous knowledge, much less a deep abiding love for Prince Edward Island prior to arriving at the Cuthbert's.
I also found it farfetched that there were so many people in Anne's life, older Thomas daughter, neighbor lady, egg man and two school teachers, plus the midwife whom Anne loved and lost. It made no sense that the "Word Man" and the teacher would not adopt Anne as the Thomas family was looking for a place for her to go.
I know that Anne and I are kindred spirits and I instinctively feel that Anne didn't get her insistence of spelling Anne with an "e" second hand. The only exception would be if Mrs. Thomas, who knew Anne's parents had mentioned to her that her mother insisted on spelling Anne with an "e".
If Anne had a cat with the same name as her arch-enemy/friend/husband don't you think she would have at least mentioned it?! Ok, I know this one is a bit nit-picky but it bothered me.
Also are we really supposed to believe that Anne never got into any "scrapes" prior to arriving on Marilla's doorstep? Anne getting into scrapes is as much a part of her as red hair.
Speaking of which; hair that is "orange" will never, ever deepen to auburn, which Anne's eventually did, even if it was just slightly.
It was a pretty good story, it just wasn't about the real Anne Shirley in so many ways. This Anne was an imposter and I was highly disappointed.
Much better to stick to the books written by Lucy Maude Montgomery.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2008
I love L. M. Montgomery's Anne books (as well as her other books) and have read them multiple times. This prequel to Anne of Green Gables is certainly an earnest and admirably researched effort, obviously a labor of great care by Budge Wilson, but I found it did not ring true to me as a real "book about Anne" -- Wilson's writing style has none of the magic of Montgomery's, it's too stark and unlyrical for the book to fit well into the Anne canon. I realize Wilson may have done this deliberately, since Anne's early life is so sad and grim compared with her later life on Prince Edward Island, but the book just doesn't feel like it's a true chronicle of Anne Shirley.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2009
I ordered the book because I had read the set of 8 books of Anne of Green Gables and I fell in love with Anne Shirley - her wit and love of life. Maud Montgomery was a gifted writer and it is easy reading. I found that "Before Green Gables" was written as though it had been by Maud M. I too fell in love with P.E.I. when visiting there. It was hard to put the book down! I will read it again in the near future.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2009
This book is a prequel to the Anne of Green Gables (currently 8, soon-to-be 9-book series). It was not, of course, written by L.M. Montgomery, the beloved author of Anne. Still, if you love Anne as much as I do, you really have to read this book for yourself. It's a fascinating look at what Anne's life might have been like before Matthew picked her up at the Bright River train station.
I was determined not to hate the book - since it's Anne, but I determined to find fault as well. Surely no one could perfectly capture Montgomery's style and voice. But more importantly, I was sure no reader views Anne exactly the same way and that Budge Wilson wouldn't possibly write her to my satisfaction. I was very pleasantly surprised.
The book starts at the very beginning while Bertha Shirley is barely pregnant. The language in this first part wasn't much like Montgomery's style - who, for instance, would never have mentioned a woman's "monthlies". As Anne grew older, the language became much more like Montgomery, particularly in her love for nature, and for beauty in the world and in people. Watching Anne's imagination develop was fascinating.
I was a bit thrown by the people in Anne's life who were dear to her, kind to her, and gave her gifts. This didn't quite seem in keeping with the "skinny, love-starved waif" Marilla felt compelled to help. Wilson tries to explain that Anne closed the chapter on her old life before meeting Matthew and Marilla, but that felt a little contrived. I also read a review that complained about Anne's love for the sea in this book and apparent tiring of living among trees. I have to agree. Anne adored trees more than anything in nature, and didn't realize how much the sea meant to her until she lived very near it in Anne's House of Dreams. These were my only major complaints.
Budge Wilson really did a beautiful, thorough job of exploring this season in Anne's life. Anne fans may find fault here and there - because, as I said, none of us see her exactly the same way. But if you love Anne, you should read this book and at least consider its pieces as possible contributions to the character and personality Anne had developed by the time we officially met her.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2010
Finally the story is told in detail of the life Anne had before coming to live with the Cuthberts. There is also a little bit about her parents and their lives. Anne is truly a girl who takes a lot but never gives up dreaming. Her parents die when she is 3 months old, and she is taken in by the lady who helped clean the house for Bertha. That is just the beginning of a long journey for an eleven year old girl.
Ms. Wilson did such a fantastic job that I felt apart of the story. I could feel the emotions and sometimes even cried along with Anne. She not only grabbed the essence of L.M. Montgomery's work but was able to write stuff that as far as I know never been written in detail before.
I love Anne. My favorite fictional character of all time who gave me a passion to dream myself. Her imagination was one of the things that kept her going. Also her tenacity for life kept her going no matter how difficult. She did break down but after all even she can only take so much. Her hopes were dashed and the depths of despair were something she experienced with all of her heart. Sometimes it seemed like she was just being melodramatic but I kept hoping for the best anyways.
This is one book that won't leave my shelf any time soon. I recommend it highly for anyone who loves Anne and I enjoyed it so much. Some of this was in the movie with the Hammonds and going to the orphanage. I am curious to brush off my copy of Anne of Green Gables if it's still in readable condition. I may have to tape it up since I loved it so much! This is one I may revisit when I need something to get me out of a slump.