Friday, May 6, 2016

"the blue castle" by l.m. montgomery

For my April book for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge, I decided to read The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Prior to this, the only Montgomery books I had read were the Anne of Green Gables series. When I learned about The Blue Castle last year, I immediately bought it (it was only 99 cents on Kindle), and every time I saw it on my Kindle I thought, "I should read it," but I never got around to it.

Valancy Stirling is unmarried at 29. Frustrated by her loveless state and stifled by her moralistic family, for years she has been escaping into an imaginary life in her Blue Castle in Spain. Then unexpected news shocks her into asserting her independence and striking out against society’s conventions. Her old fantasies seem irrelevant now - but dreams of the Blue Castle are not forgotten as she refocuses her energies on living her life on her own terms. 

The Blue Castle is the story of Valancy Stirling, a woman who lives with her mother and a cousin. She has a very large extended family, led by her Uncle Benjamin, and the Stirlings are prone to grudges and snobbery—their Anne counterparts would be the Pringles. Actually, Valancy reminds me of Pauline Harris from Anne of Avonlea (the movie), who was based upon Pauline Gibson from Anne of Windy Poplars. Like Pauline, Valancy was a lesser member of a judgmental family, she was single to the point of being an old maid, and she cared for a very demanding mother.

Anne connections aside, The Blue Castle is a very intriguing novel. Valancy's story really begins after she visits a doctor on her 29th birthday (unbeknownst to anyone in her family) due to some disturbing health problems. The doctor is called away on an emergency immediately following her examination, but he writes her a letter telling her she has a fatal heart problem and will die within the year. At this point, Valancy decides she's had enough of being "Doss" (her family's condescending nickname for her) and wants to truly live. She takes a job caring for an ill school friend and gets to know Barney Snaith, the local recluse and subject of many rumors. As time goes on, romance blossoms ... sort of.

This really is an unusual romance, as it's more about Valancy finding herself than about her finding true love, and the interactions between Valancy and Barney are seldom romantic. I definitely wasn't dying for Valancy and Barney to declare their love, but I was very interested in where the story would take them. While there are a couple twists that I saw coming a mile away, one took me completely by surprise—and made me laugh out loud!

I must confess that the writing sometimes bothered me. While the whole book is written in third person, mainly from Valancy's perspective, at times the reader would suddenly jump into Uncle Benjamin or another random character's head, and I found that shift to be jarring. Now I'm curious to know if this perspective shift happened in the Anne books—it's been so long since I've read them that I have no idea!

While I wouldn't say The Blue Castle is on the level of Anne of Green Gables, I am glad that I read it—and I would really enjoy seeing it made into a film. 4 stars.

A version of this review originally appeared on Coffee & Conversation.

Buy the book.

Lucy Maude Montgomery (1874-1942) was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, the setting for Anne of Green Gables. She left to attend college, but returned to Prince Edward Island to teach. In 1911, she married the Reverend Ewan MacDonald. Anne of Green Gables, the first in a series of "Anne" books by Montgomery, was published in 1908 to immediate success and continues to be a perennial favorite. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself and reviewed it of my own free will. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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