To pick up on the work of a writer whose books are as well-loved as L M Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ series requires a deal of courage, both on the part of an author and of a reader. Admirers of the original ‘Anne’ books have nothing to fear here, and Budge Wilson must have every reason to be pleased with her fleshing out of Anne Shirley’s story before she came to live with the Cuthbertsons on Prince Edward Island.
She has carefully mined Montgomery’s work for information about Anne’s early days and has turned it into a story that modern readers will find more readable than the original books. There is plenty of drama, some comedy, and a deal of tragedy here, starting with Anne’s loving schoolteacher parents who die when she is three months old. After that, she becomes a skivvie for first one, then another family overburdened with children. The harshness of life for poor families in Victorian Nova Scotia is delineated in detail; it was more than tough for those who had no means of stopping a stream of babies, who had no social security or proper healthcare, and where fatherless children were parcelled out to whoever would take them, or were sent to orphanages.
Even by the standards of the time Anne had a difficult first 11 years: almost as soon as she could walk she became a drudge, and when the father in the second family died, she was sent to an orphanage. Readers of Montgomery’s books will know what happened after that.
Wilson’s text is well crafted; Montgomery’s style is adhered to but modulated to suit 21st-century readers; some of Anne’s more exuberant utterances are modified somewhat, but as she gets older she still astonishes, and wearies, the adults who encounter her. Wilson’s Anne chimes with the older Anne and readers are shown the making of the Anne they meet in Montgomery’s series.